Date of Award

Spring 5-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership

First Advisor

Bryan McCoy


Elementary educational research and practice have relied heavily on academic success and achievement based on standardized test scores, sometimes to the exclusion of other vital aspects of education, preparing each student to reach their full potential mentally, physically, socially, and emotionally. This dissertation posits that the leaders of schools must establish a caring culture to create positive outcomes in teacher satisfaction, student attendance, and student performance. It further explains that we must look at the leadership to determine their qualities and characteristics for this to be possible. This dissertation presents the role a Culture of Caring plays in a diverse elementary school in a high-poverty, urban, suburban, and rural area in a southern state in the United States. It also describes the leadership knowledge, skills, dispositions, and critical attributes needed to create a positive climate and culture shift in a school. The school leader implemented a pilot program to explore the Culture of Care theory of practice that utilizes a social-emotional approach for school improvement to promote positive outcomes. The premise is that if the leadership of a school or organization intentionally models a Culture of Caring by showing genuine interest in individuals and their work, this will improve their academic performance over time and improve many aspects of their school, including teacher morale and student attendance.

A caring act, by definition, is a non-verbal or verbal gesture that displays a genuine interest in another person’s social, emotional, mental, and physical well-being, simultaneously recognizing race, culture, and socio-economic status as part of one’s identity. Creating a caring culture involves respecting, valuing, and embracing the person’s culture with a nonjudgmental and value-based perspective. The Culture of Caring leadership model promotes caring across the school, then becomes contagious and spreads to the teachers and students, creating a more successful.

This retrospective autoethnography describes and brings meaning to school reform efforts within one school site, Sunrise Elementary School (pseudonym), located in a diverse and high-poverty area of a medium-sized town in the southern United States as described through the journal entries, agendas, interviews, and notes, and trials, of one school principal. This thesis describes the daily struggles of the principal and her leadership team to understand their roles at the school to ensure that all children within the school receive the best educational experience possible. This thesis also argues that one way of representing this complex network of school improvement efforts is to look at all decisions through a lens of caring.