University of Illinois at Chicago

The Impact of Contextual Factors on Leadership Coaching: A Mixed Methods Study

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posted on 2022-05-01, 00:00 authored by Mary Watson
As the school leader’s role grows in complexity, school districts frequently employ leadership coaching through an external partner to develop principals to meet the growing demands of the position. While research points to the benefit of leadership coaching as a supportive approach for principal professional development, most of these studies are based on outcomes from early career principals who lead underperforming, urban schools. There is limited understanding of the coaching efficacy in a variety of school context, such as rural and suburban communities. Likewise, it is unclear whether external coaches who are unfamiliar with the school or district encounter unique challenges that undermine coaching efficacy. Given the extensive reliance on external partnerships to provide leadership coaching as a mechanism for improving a principal’s leadership, it is important to understand the extent to which leadership coaching from an external partner is effective within schools of various context. To address this gap, this study utilized a mixed methods design to foreground the school and district conditions that impact coaching efficacy and understand how the principal and external leadership coach navigate challenges that could impact coaching efficacy. Drawing upon survey data from principals (n=45) and external leadership coaches (n=52) who participated in the multi-year leadership coaching project, the relationship between school contextual factors and coaching efficacy was investigated. Following the survey analysis, principals (n=6) and leadership coaches (n=9) were purposefully selected for interviews to uncover how to navigate dominant challenges that surface. The survey analysis revealed two dominant challenges that the principals and leadership coaches suggest are impediments to leadership coaching efficacy. The findings also point to contextual factors that are associated with the dominant challenges. Analysis of the interview data suggests several actions that are likely to be of value for overcoming common challenges that can undermine coaching efficacy. This study will provide insights for external leadership coaches and school districts as they design external coaching partnerships and navigate contextual challenges to support principal development.



Cosner, Shelby


Cosner, Shelby


Educational Policy Studies

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level

  • Doctoral

Degree name

PhD, Doctor of Philosophy

Committee Member

Mayrowetz, David Tozer, Steven Maggin, Daniel Hood, Lisa

Submitted date

May 2022

Thesis type



  • en

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