Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Robert B. Heasley, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

John A. Anderson, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Cheryl T. Desmond, Ph.D.


This qualitative research explores the problem-solving process of public school principals. Drawing on in-depth interviews with successful principals, three distinct elements influencing the process were discovered. First, principals often engage in a practice the author identifies as policy shielding, where established policy or law is used as a barrier from having to engage in potentially difficult interpersonal problem solving. Second, this research identifies ethical inclusion as the principal’s consideration of the ethical, cultural, and emotional state of persons involved in the problem. Delocalized empathy, the third element identified through this research, identifies the process in which a principal may expand the framing of a problem through the inclusion of the emotional or other needs of persons beyond those immediately involved. While each of these findings is distinct, there is a progressive relationship among them. When principals avoid policy shielding, the opportunity for creative problem solving increases. The subsequent problem solving is strongly influenced by the principal’s ability to be ethically inclusive of other individual’s cultural and contextual norms. Finally, the principal’s ethical inclusivity allows for the delocalization of empathy to anticipate emotional or other personal reaction from others directly and indirectly involved in the decision. The creative problem-solving process requires additional time and resources and principals in this study who engaged in creative problem solving had mitigated descriptions of their job satisfaction when compared to those who did not. The persons interviewed provide evidence that principals struggle with balancing the efficiency of deciding by policy alone and expending personal time and energy to engage in problem solving. Because principals make decisions and solve problems that affect the lives of many individuals, improving the problem-solving process is of paramount importance. It is recommended that training in the process of creative problem solving be included into the curricula of principal certification programs.