Date of Award

Summer 8-10-2021

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Policy Studies

First Advisor

Sheryl Cowart Moss, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Will Rumbaugh, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Nick Sauers, Ph.D.


The civil rights movement provided the foundation for students with disabilities to access education in the same settings as their nondisabled peers. However, placement in the same settings is not a guarantee of equitable educational experiences. This study was an exploration of the behaviors of a principal in the implementation of a district initiative for equitable educational opportunities for students with disabilities, with a focus on the co-teaching service delivery model. The study was the means used to explicitly explore how or if those behaviors aligned with the characteristics of the social justice leadership framework. Qualitative methodology, specifically an instrumental case study design, was the approach chosen to explore these perceptions within one school in a large urban school district in the Southeastern United States. The selected participants from the site were a principal and a special education teacher. The collection of various data sources occurred via semi-structured interviews and a review of pertinent documents. Open coding, pattern coding, and codeweaving commenced to develop themes. The following themes emerged: a willingness to identify problems, a solutions-oriented approach, and an inclusive mindset. The findings demonstrated that the principal’s behaviors in the implementation of the district initiative aligned with several characteristics of social justice leadership. The study included a further analysis of the descriptions of the principal’s behaviors through the lens of several constructs of social justice leadership. The principal displayed a connection to socially just pedagogy, an inclusive and democratic mindset, a relational and caring demeanor, and an action-oriented and transformational leadership style. Findings from this study could contribute to the extant literature and practice in the following areas: the impact of principal behaviors on initiative implementation, instructional leadership practices for students with disabilities, and leadership priorities for recruitment. There is a need for further research on social justice leadership at the school and district level and leadership development in special education. This study also suggests further research into the design and implementation of co-teaching models for students with disabilities.


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