Examining and addressing academic stress at a suburban high school
This qualitative case study focused on what the researcher learned as a participant-observer during the planning and implementation stages of the Stress Reduction Committee's work to examine and address an academic stress problem at Jewel-on-the-Hill High School. The observations illuminated the various perspectives individuals carried on the naming of the stress problem, how they overcame challenges in the work, the new learnings they developed, and the results the initiative created. The study examined the scope and complexity of the stress issue, the importance of distributed leadership and coordinated school change, and the challenges of shifting the culture of a school. Five instruments were utilized to collect data in this ethnographic descriptive case study: pre-intervention interviews, participant reflective journaling, results of the Stress Reduction Committee, researcher reflective journaling, and post-intervention interviews. The researcher collected data over the course of a fourteen-month period. Findings were many, and included how there existed differences and consistencies both within the sample and between subsamples. The influence of time on the initiative and the study produced additional findings. Themes developed across each of the first three research questions (the naming of the stress problem, the challenges the committee faced, and the new learnings of the committee). The role and actions taken by the participant-observer as he led the stress initiative provided additional findings. Implications for practice included advice for school leaders in taking on a school culture initiative, such as how to best lead a representative committee and how to organize the fruitful outputs of the group. Advice was also provided to parents and to students on how to best cope with academic stress and increase their locus of control over their life situation. Limitations of this study included potential leadership bias due to the researcher's role as principal of the school. Other limitations included site, time, and instrumentation biases. The researcher made efforts to control for biases in order to increase the validity and reliability of the study. The dissertation concluded with the lessons learned by the participant-observer in regards to his own leadership capacity. The study and initiative led to substantial professional growth for the researcher.