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The Cultural Growth Mindset of Elementary School Principals and their Influence on the Academic Achievement of Hispanic English Learners


A growing population, Hispanic English learners enrolling in our schools are struggling academically. Learning gaps begin to surface for Hispanic English learners at the elementary level (Grasparil & Hernandez, 2015, Umansky & Reardon, 2014; Gandara, 2012; Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian, 2005). Increasing the level of academic success of Hispanic English learners is a national imperative. The role of the principal has been linked to student success since, through their beliefs and behaviors, principals construct conditions in their schools that shape student learning (Supovitz, Sirinides, & May, 2010; Marks & Printy, 2003; Chrispeels, 1992).

Grounded in a strengths-based theoretical construct— cultural growth mindset, positive school leadership, and strengths-based instructional leadership— this case study was organized under a mixed-methods sequential explanatory research design to answer one overarching question and two sub-questions. Two elementary school principals from schools with high populations of English learners were studied. This study explores teacher perceptions of principal behaviors, and principal leadership practices with teachers directly influencing the academic performance of Hispanic English learners. Phase One included an analysis of quantitative results from a survey administered to 35 teachers, 19 from one school, and 16 from the other. In Phase Two, qualitative data contributed to the research as a narrative unfolding through the interviews and observations of the principal participants, a teacher focus group at one school, and a school counselor at the other. Significant themes emanating from this case study were principals’ high learning expectations and a strong belief in students’ ability to succeed. Students’ first language was considered an asset and students’ diverse backgrounds were valued. In addition to strong parental involvement, student emotional well-being was a priority. Principals supported teacher collaboration and demonstrated high trust in teachers’ ability to impact the learning of Hispanic English learners. Collection and analysis of key student data was a principal practice. Integration and interweaving of cultural growth mindset, positive school leadership and strengths-based instructional leadership were essential lenses to fully understand the achievement gains made by the students. The implications this case study presents for educational research, policy, equity, and social justice are discussed. Limitations of the study are addressed.

Keywords: achievement gap, cultural growth mindset, effective schools, elementary schools, equity, learning, opportunity gap, positive school leadership, strength-based instructional leadership, Hispanic English learners, principals, school leadership, social justice

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