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EDL 5200: Case Study 2 – Leadership Traits and Theories 1

There will be 3 case study prompts posted in the forum. Please post a response to each case presented. Remember, there is no wrong answer; however, you must justify your response and provide evidence to support your stance when necessary. Please review the handout on leadership and leadership traits and theories on Moodle. The cases are based on traits outlined in the handout.

Hiring a New Assistant Middle School Principal

An affluent public-school district in the Midwest is completing construction on a new middle school housing students in Grades 5–8. The school is slated to open in the fall, and the district administrative team has filled all the building’s leadership positions except for the assistant principal. The role of assistant principal includes managing school operations, discipline, parent conferences, and instruction planning.

Maureen Moser, a dynamic, engaging, intelligent leader with eight years of building-level administrative experience, is being transferred to the new building as its lead principal. She has a reputation for being confident, determined, and sociable with all members of the staff and community. Maureen assembled a team of five individuals comprising teachers, support staff, and parents to assist her in selecting the new assistant principal.

Most of the applications received are from certified administrators with no administrative experience. After two months of screening applications, the team has interviewed the five most qualified candidates. The only two candidates with any formal administrative experience are interviewed but dismissed for various reasons. The interviewing team has selected two finalists but is divided on which one would be the better fit for the new school and best serve in the capacity as the assistant. Maureen has strong feelings toward one of the two candidates. While she sees one as a mirror image of herself, she admits the other has complementary traits that would make a well-rounded teammate.

One finalist is Jamie Patte, a fifth-grade teacher at a neighboring progressive suburban elementary school. She is in her ninth year of teaching, all in Grade 5 in the same district. Most recently, Jamie completed her administrative certification program through a prestigious state university. Jamie’s references describe her as organized, dependable, creative, accepting, trusting, and nurturing. These traits surfaced during her first-round interview through her interactions with committee members and responses to the various questions. During a tour of the new building, Jamie was curious about its layout, noted some possible safety issues, and asked insightful questions about how the building meets the needs of the students and programs.

The second finalist is Dwayne Boren, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at a middle school in an urban district. He has 10 years of teaching experience spanning Grades 6–8 mainly in language arts, but also has taught study skills and coached middle school basketball. He completed his administrative certification program at a large urban university with a positive reputation. Dwayne’s references describe him as assertive, positive, decisive, confident, and determined. During the interview, the committee was impressed with his intelligence and the level of confidence that came from Dwayne’s responses. The committee members also remarked on his self-confidence and how engaging he was throughout the entire process.

Please compose a response and address each set of questions.  Your response should be a minimum of two (2) paragraphs.


1. Based on leadership traits, which of the two candidates do you believe is most like Maureen? Use specific traits to justify your response.

2. Explain why the candidate not chosen in Question 1 may be more complementary and less a mirror image. Use specific traits to justify your response.

3. The committee is composed of educators and parents. What traits from each candidate do you think most appeal to the teachers? What traits from each candidate do you think most appeal to the parents?

Advanced Questions

4. Maureen was identified as an effective building leader, thus being transferred to the head principal position in the new building. Do the traits she has justify her success? Explain.

5. In what ways could the weaknesses of the trait approach affect the selection of a candidate and his or her long-term success in this role?


Before Barb Burns Out

Barb Margolin is the coordinator of after-school programs for 11 elementary schools in Johnson County Public Schools. A former fourth-grade teacher, Barb was thrilled to take the coordinator position. She supervises a team of youth development specialists to plan and implement academic interventions, enrichment programs, student clubs, and other activities for the students to engage in during the three hours immediately following the end of the school day. Barb is responsible for a variety of tasks, including hiring staff, budgeting, curriculum development, developing community partnerships, and grant monitoring. Barb works with individuals at every level of the district, including students, support staff, teachers, and principals, reporting to the assistant vice president of academic services.

Barb had a great first year in the program. The people she worked with liked her, saying she was fun to be around, said yes to every project request, and knew all students and their families by name. Barb developed strong working relationships with her colleagues and a positive connection with the school staff. She came up with some creative new activities for the students, and students in the academic intervention programs started showing improvement. Sometimes Barb fell behind on getting paperwork completed and let a deadline for a task slip, but her supervisor and others gave her the benefit of the doubt, recognizing it was her first year in the job and she was learning the position.

Barb’s second year as coordinator is not going as well. Paperwork has piled up, and tasks she needs to do are falling through the cracks. Recently, an important deadline for a grant contract was missed, costing the program about $40,000. This is the third time in as many months Barb has missed a deadline. In addition, several principals have told Barb’s supervisor that Barb seems overwhelmed and unable to follow through on promises she made to them. Barb continues to innovate the program, but several of the changes she instituted this year required more attention from her during their implementation. Handholding these changes has taken her energy and attention away from other responsibilities.

Barb’s demeanor has suffered as well. Those who work with her say that she was once very upbeat and positive, but now seems stressed and overwhelmed. She still says yes to every project, but fewer and fewer of them are actually being completed.

Her supervisor knows Barb has valuable skills that she brings to this position, but must help her develop other needed skills before Barb burns out completely.

Please compose a response and address each set of questions.  Your response should be a minimum of two (2) paragraphs.


1. Based on Katz’s three-skill approach to leadership, how would you describe Barb’s technical, human, and conceptual skills? In which of these is she the strongest?

2. Given the duties and tasks in her position, would you characterize Barb’s job as supervisory, middle, or top management? Which skills does she need to work on in order to perform at that level?

3. As Barb’s supervisor, how would you work on developing the skill areas she may be lacking?

Advanced Questions

4. Using the Skills Model of Leadership, describe Barb’s strongest individual attributes. How have these helped or hindered her leadership outcomes?

5. Using the Skills Model of Leadership, how would you describe Barb’s competencies? How have these helped or hindered her leadership outcomes?

6. How does her environment and career experience affect Barb’s leadership?


Springfield Day School

Ella Lindon founded Springfield Day School when she was 33. Now, nearly 40 years later, the school is everything she dreamed. Nestled in a historic building in a quiet residential neighborhood, the private school has 100 students in preschool to eighth grade. The Springfield staff consists of Ella, her administrative assistant, a part-time secretary, two preschool teachers, nine classroom teachers (one in each grade), and teachers for music, PE, and art.

The school has very low attrition. Ella picks the students (and their families) herself. There is a lengthy application process, during which Ella interviews the children and families, and it is Ella who has the final say on admission. Families stay at Springfield Day because they feel that they have been specially selected from among many to join an elite group. They speak with pride when they say, “When Ella chose us to come here,” “Ella’s wonderful,” and “We would do anything for Ella.”

Springfield Day’s curriculum and programming reflect Ella’s particular biases, most notably her attitude toward technology. She has no use for it in her own life, and has begrudgingly found a place for it in the pre-K–8 curriculum. There are computers in each classroom connected to the Internet. While the older students use technology to create multimedia projects, the computers in the younger students’ classrooms sit mostly unused. But what is most shocking to new families is that the use of email at the school is strictly forbidden. Ella has often said that messages are communicated better and more accurately when people speak directly to each other. She also is an advocate of the “lost art of letter writing,” saying that the personal touch is more effective. As a result, parents who wish to communicate with staff or teachers must call or come to the school to talk to them, and communication from the school to families comes in the form of weekly printed newsletters or phone calls. The parents are even discouraged from exchanging email addresses with one another, though they confess in whispers that they do, because it makes arranging play dates easier.

Ella communicates with her staff entirely through handwritten notes. All day long, student runners take turns delivering communiqués from Ella, written on her signature heavy-bond, pale blue stationery. The notes may include words of praise, a comment about a student, or questions. Sometimes they are task-oriented: reminders that progress reports are due, requests for meetings, or questions about projects in process. In general, though, Ella doesn’t need to write very many task-oriented notes. Ella often brags about her faculty’s autonomy and her hands-off approach, saying that the staff have been there so long they know what is expected and when.

Most of the faculty have been with the school for 20 years or more; the newest hire joined the school 10 years ago. All were handpicked by Ella and are accustomed to her “management by note” method. The teachers all say they feel supported and often go to Ella with concerns, both school-related and personal. She knows them, their histories, and their families. She listens and offers advice, and helps them find the resources they need to address their concerns. Ella frequently treats the staff to lunch after conferences or other major events during the school year.

The first-grade teacher, Stacey, has announced she will retire this year. Ella has interviewed five potential replacements, all candidates in their 20s. When told about the technology restrictions at the school and Ella’s management by note, three of the candidates withdrew from the search, one declaring incredulously in the interview, “How do you get anything done without computers and email?”

Ella just shrugs. Her philosophy and method has worked for 40 years, and Springfield Day is thriving with a long waiting list for admission.

Please compose a response and address each set of questions.  Your response should be a minimum of two (2) paragraphs.


1. Where would you place Ella on Blake and Mouton’s Leadership Grid (Figure 4.1 -handout)?

2. Would you describe Ella as more task-oriented or relationship-oriented?

3. Why do you think Ella’s behavioral leadership approach has been successful for Springfield Day School?

Advanced Questions

4. Would you describe Ella as having a maternal orientation in her leadership behavior? Give examples to support your answer.

5. As new faculty come on board who have less experience than the current teachers, what are some obstacles they may encounter with Springfield Day’s management methods?

6. Ella is 73 and will retire at some point, but there is no succession plan in place. Do you think Ella should be replaced with an internal candidate who shares her leadership philosophies or with an outside candidate? What leadership behaviors should the ideal candidate have in order to continue the school’s success?

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