Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name




First Advisor

Dragana Martinovic


Bounded Rationality, Decision-Making, Leadership, Principal, School Effectiveness, School Improvement




How a principal cognitively interprets their school context and makes decisions to improve the instructional and cultural capital of each school has not been researched in Ontario. Thus, 21 elementary principals in one school district in Ontario were interviewed to study what contexts principals are working in and how these conditions affect rational school-improvement decision-making. Thirteen principals were leading in Turnaround Schools (TS) and eight were leading in Non-Turnaround Schools (NTS). TS are usually located in high poverty areas and have higher proportions of vulnerable students (i.e., Indigenous, racialized, recent immigrants, and/or those living with disabilities). Results showed that principal leadership may be constrained by three contextual factors: (1) the prescriptive district policy for school improvement, which inhibits principal’s autonomy in improvement decisions; (2) the type of school, TS or NTS, which carries stereotypes and expectations about the students, staff and families of the school community, thus affecting decision-making; and (3) in this district there were substantially more women placed in TS than male principals, and this asymmetry resulted in the ‘glass-cliff’ phenomenon. A glass cliff is when female leaders are placed in highly complex and challenging assignments where success is less likely, the workload is more than what is normally expected, and decision-making is risky. Taken together, these social and cultural constraints bound the principal’s ability to make rational decisions toward school improvement. A grounded theory of bounded rationality and a model of school improvement model are presented within. This research has implications for the application of school improvement policy in Ontario, how school context is interpreted and, how principal leadership is assessed and supported.