Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2017

Degree Type


Degree Name



Educational Leadership and Policy

First Advisor

Carolyn M. Shields



Our democracy depends upon an educated populace; thus, educators have an ethical and a moral obligation to provide equitable opportunities for all children to obtain an education “worth wanting” (Howe, 1997). Yet, too often the pleas of countless children yearning to be accepted go unnoticed. In the U.S., millions of students fail to realize similar academic success and social inclusion simply because of their (self or imposed) identification with a non-dominant identity group, and this can only be understood as institutionalized injustice. Often hiding in plain sight, marginalization and oppression take many forms, yet for their victims the results are the same—a diminished existence.

This transformative case study examined a social justice-oriented district leadership team as they endeavored to promote inclusion and equity and provide exceptional educational experiences for all children in their care. Utilizing multiple in-depth interviews and in-situ observations over several months, the perspectives of the leadership team, various district personnel, and community leaders were obtained and analyzed using transformative leadership theory as a framework. Applying abductive reasoning (Evers & Wu, 2006) to the data I demonstrate why it is reasonable to infer that transformative leadership theory (Shields, 2016) best explains this team’s approach to just leadership.

The data describe a leadership team that demonstrates a multifaceted relationship including qualities revealing professionalism, collegiality, teamwork, friendship, and a profound level of trust most resembling a family of choice. Humor and frivolity unite this team, annealing them to the magnitude of a challenging profession. Furthermore, humility and a willingness to share in the responsibilities of administration magnify this team’s effectiveness and sphere of influence.

Most significantly, the leadership team at the center of this study demonstrates an unwavering commitment to the dignity and potential of every child and a mandate to effect equitable reform. This study richly chronicles the decisions and actions of a morally courageous leadership team as they challenge injustice district-wide. Working to dismantle inequitable mental constructs, the team confronts poverty, racism, classism, meritocracy, and other forms of institutionalized oppression. Transformative leadership theory offers individuals committed to just governance a powerful lens through which to guide praxis.