Effective School Literacy Culture and Learning Outcomes: The Multifaceted Leadership Role of the Principal


  • Matthew Kierstead STEM Collegiate
  • George Georgiou University of Alberta
  • Cheryl Poth University of Alberta
  • Emily Mack University of Alberta




The purpose of this study was to explore the multifaceted leadership role an effective principal assumed in the deployment of evidence-based literacy practices in her school. We conducted a mixed methods case study integrating the lived experiences of 11 school staff (principal, learning support teacher, and classroom teachers) with the reading scores of 122 Grade 1 to 3 students in Alberta (Canada). A merged mixed analysis strategy revealed four interdependent influences pointing to key contributions of the principal in igniting awareness, developing expertise, creating momentum, and leveraging data in relation to literacy school practices. Our findings shed light on the complexity inherent in the roles of principals and their interactions with others in developing evidence-based literacy school cultures that improve students’ performance.

Keywords: leadership, mixed methods, principal, reading.

L'objectif de cette étude était d'explorer le rôle de leadeurship à multiples facettes qu'une directrice d'école efficace a assumé dans le déploiement de pratiques de littératie fondées sur des données probantes dans son école. Nous avons mené une étude de cas à méthodes mixtes intégrant les expériences vécues de 11 membres du personnel de l'école (directrice, enseignant de soutien à l'apprentissage et enseignants) et les résultats en lecture de 122 élèves de la première à la troisième année de l'Alberta (Canada). Une stratégie d'analyse mixte fusionnée a révélé quatre influences interdépendantes soulignant les contributions clés de la directrice d'école à la sensibilisation, au développement de l'expertise, à la création d'une dynamique et à l'exploitation des données en relation avec les pratiques scolaires en matière d'alphabétisation. Nos résultats mettent en lumière la complexité inhérente aux rôles des directions d'école et à leurs interactions avec d'autres personnes dans le développement de cultures scolaires fondées sur des données probantes qui améliorent le rendement des élèves.

Mots clés : leadeurship, méthodes mixtes, direction d'école, lecture.

Author Biographies

Matthew Kierstead, STEM Collegiate

Matthew Kierstead, EdD, is the first principal of the new public charter school STEM Collegiate in Edmonton Alberta. He is a senior principal with 28 years in the position. He was awarded by the Alberta Teachers Association the 2022 Alberta Distinguished Leadership Award. In 2014 Dr. Kierstead was a member of the 2014 Alberta Education Ambassador delegation to China, a group tasked with visiting China to consult on education change. Leveraging his expertise, he provides professional development to principals throughout the province of Alberta in areas of data use, literacy, and school leadership. 

George Georgiou, University of Alberta

George K. Georgiou, PhD, is a professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta and the director of the Reading Research Laboratory. His research focuses on the prevention and remediation of reading difficulties. He has received several awards including the Martha Cook Research Prize, the Killam Professorship award, and the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Platinum Medal. In 2018, he was indicted into the College of the Royal Society of Canada and in 2022 he joined the education committee of UNESCO Canada.

Cheryl Poth, University of Alberta

Cheryl Poth, PhD, is a Professor in the Centre for Research and Applied Measurement and Evaluation in the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta. She is an award-winning instructor and author of three research-focused textbooks and editor of the forthcoming SAGE Handbook of Mixed Methods Research Design. Her books, the 4th edition of the Qualitative Inquiry & Research Design with John Creswell (2017, Sage), Innovation in Mixed Methods Research: Guiding Practices for Integrative Thinking with Complexity (2018, Sage), and Research Ethics (2021, Sage) are inspired by the practice dilemmas experienced in the field. In 2023, she received the Division D Significant Contributions to Research Methodologies Award from the American Educational Research Association for her work in multi and mixed methodologies.

Emily Mack, University of Alberta

Emily Mack is a provisionally registered psychologist with the College of Alberta Psychologists and is currently completing her PhD in Counselling Psychology at the University of Alberta. Her research focuses on psychological ethics, mixed methods research, and suicide and media. She has presented and published on issues related to suicide, suicide contagion, and media for the past 4 years, and has worked with community organizations to develop programs related to suicide prevention and grief. Her current research centers on the intersection between youth, caring adults, suicide contagion, and fictional media. Emily is also a recipient of the national Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship.



How to Cite

Kierstead, M., Georgiou, G., Poth, C., & Mack, E. (2023). Effective School Literacy Culture and Learning Outcomes: The Multifaceted Leadership Role of the Principal. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 69(4), 551–567. https://doi.org/10.55016/ojs/ajer.v69i4.77510