Defense Date


Graduation Date

Spring 5-7-2021


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Educational Studies (General Education)


School of Education

Committee Chair

Darius Prier

Committee Member

Amy Olson

Committee Member

James Wortman


Education, Leadership, Rural, Poverty, Systems Leadership, Emotional Intelligence


This study investigated “why” some educational leaders are effective in serving rural high-poverty populations and to better understand “how” to enact effective leadership in similar spaces. Core principles of Critical Social Theory, Systems Leadership Theory, and Emotional Intelligence informed this work. Using a Grounded Theory methodology, a theoretical framework for effective educational leadership in rural high-poverty schools emerged. This framework suggests that effective educational leaders take a systems leadership approach to guiding their organizations to more equitable and socially just ends. Such leaders honor student and family voices and actively seek to understand and respond to their lived realities. They nurture interpersonal relationships with all stakeholders to establish trust, build a cohesive vision, and cultivate deep commitment to transformative change. Such leaders engineer opportunities for students to learn and succeed, removing obstacles to access. They redesign educational systems to support students’ learning and their ability to apply that learning to real-time opportunities. These same leaders are inextricably connected to their local communities and actively pursue opportunities for their students and families to authentically engage with both the school and the greater school community. Germane to this theoretical framework is that all components of the system are interconnected. A deep understanding of students’ lived realities and the complex social structures that impact them inform all other decisions and actions. It is only with informed intentionality that educational leaders can be architects of systems that produce truly sustainable, socially just outcomes for the diverse populations they serve.