Date of Conferral



Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)




Kathryn Swetnam


Experiencing trauma can affect children’s ability to achieve academically. School principals are responsible for creating a positive school culture to support all children academically, yet there is limited knowledge of how principals create such a culture for children exposed to trauma. The purpose of this basic qualitative study was to understand the practices of elementary school administrators in fostering a safe and trustworthy school culture that supports academic achievement for students who have experienced trauma. Maslow’s conceptual framework of human motivation informed this study, and research questions centered on how elementary principals perceive practices necessary to create and maintain a school culture that supports students exposed to trauma. Semistructured interviews were conducted with 8 purposely-selected principals, who had served at least 2 years in their schools in a mid-Atlantic school district in the United States. Content analysis using a priori and open coding was used to identify categories and themes. Study results indicated that to foster a school culture for elementary students exposed to trauma, school administrators must provide teachers with professional development, prioritize relationship building with students and adults, acquire and allocate human resources, and hold staff accountable. Participants described how they interview potential personnel, create and foster a team approach, and provide professional development to support and retain staff. Recommendations for practice are relevant to principals, to those who prepare them, and to those who hire and mentor them. Positive social change can occur if elementary school principals and school staff mitigate the negative effects of trauma and allow children the opportunity to thrive physically, socially, emotionally, and academically.