Date of Award

Summer 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Educational Leadership

Committee Director

Steve Myran

Committee Member

Judith Dunkerly-Bean

Committee Member

Kala Burrell-Craft


While some scholars have critiqued the continued dominance of scientific management on how we conceptualize and run schools (Cuban, 1990; Myran & Sutherland, 2019; Tyack & Cuban, 1995), it remains the dominant paradigm, and even with some surface level structural changes, these have had little impact on the undergirding theories that shape the field (Clandinin & Connelly, 1998; Cuban 2012, Tyack & Cuban, 1995). However, what is particularly troubling, is that scientific management as the dominant theory of action is more grounded in principles of efficiency and uniformity than principles of human agency, learning, equity, and social justice, and therefore is antithetical to the goals of contemporary schooling. This incongruence puts reform minded educators in the middle of a paradox of competing values and theories.

While there is a rich literature on these related topics, we know little about how educators navigate this theorized paradox. Without such an exploration we run the risk of unknowingly reinforcing and perpetuating the well-established patterns of failed reform efforts. This study explores the lived experiences of teachers and school leaders involved in a district level equity initiative and how they navigated these competing values.

Using a phenomenological research approach designed to explore this social and psychological phenomena from the perspective of the people experiencing it (Douglas & Moustakas, 1985), I closely examine the lived experiences (Eddles-Hirsch, 2015; Strauss & Corbin, 1998) of the people whose workplaces them within this theorized paradox. Taken together, the findings suggest that the theorized paradox described by Myran & Sutherland (2019) is clearly seen as real amongst these educators. The participants described the structures and practices of school improvement as representing a number of tensions between the historically rooted pull to manage, control, and direct the school environment, and their social justice driven impulse to engage, explore, build safe and trusting relationships, and to learn and grow. As one participant said, If we say that we believe all children can learn at high levels, yet we implement practices that prevent our marginalized groups from doing so, leaders must feel safe being able to challenge these practices.

Study findings highlight that educators actively working within the tensions of this paradox were passionate about the need to ground this important work in mindfulness and the creation, protection, and maintenance of safe spaces to navigate the dangers they experienced. They emphasized the importance of building trusting relationships, to expand their cultural awareness and skills in equity building, to develop the mindset to critically examine the norms and traditions of our field, and to better recognize and identify systemic barriers. Leading with learning and social justice informed theories of action offer a far more appropriate and congruent basis for improvement. The findings of this study offer insights on how educators are finding their way through the tensions of this paradox.