The role of servant leadership in middle school culture

Frank Umberto Zamperlin, Fordham University


This study sought to examine the effect of how a middle school principal's skill as a listener influenced a school's culture within the servant leadership model. Three high performing middle schools with similar demographics within three different school districts in northern Westchester County of New York were studied during December 2007 through February 2008 to explore patterns and threads in how the characteristic of listening affects the culture of the school. The researcher studied the nature of communication in the schools to understand how the principal communicated with teachers and staff, and how the teachers and staff communicated with the principals. All three schools were designed to reflect current middle level educational philosophy. The school's principal, four teachers, the principal's secretary, and the head custodian from each school were interviewed using guiding questions through a semi-structured approach, as this was an ethnographic study. Documents that described the school's vision, mission, policies, and procedures were reviewed, and field observations were conducted in each school. The data regarding the principal's skill as a listener and its effect upon the school's culture revealed ten themes consistent across all of the schools studied: team culture, leader awareness, listening with follow-through, collaboration, visibility, a familial environment, decision-making, a focus upon current middle school philosophy, developing trust between leader and followers, and the perception that the leader was a guide rather than an authority in her/his leadership approach. The findings indicated that listening was highly valued and had deep personal meaning to individuals; it gave people a sense of worth and importance. Most of the people interviewed felt that the principal was empathetic when communicating with them, though, there was a minority that felt that they were left out and marginalized. Four of the ten common themes that emerged from the study provided insightful areas of significance that are important in developing servant leadership within principals in a school setting: listening with follow through; trust; teaming; and building a learning community.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Middle School education

Recommended Citation

Zamperlin, Frank Umberto, "The role of servant leadership in middle school culture" (2012). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3495742.