Degree Name

EdD (Doctor of Education)


Educational Leadership

Date of Award

December 1995


This study investigated the characteristic of chaos theory called sensitive dependence on initial conditions or butterfly effect in schools and school systems. The purpose of the study was to develop insight into school systems by determining if categories or factors of behaviors or decisions have been observed in school systems which are sensitive to initial conditions and are therefore likely to produce exponential effects. A modified critical incident technique was used to collect data from experienced principals in three moderate sized regions in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia. Participants reported incidents that were sensitive to initial conditions during interviews. The data were analyzed by summarizing incidents reported in interviews and sorting to determine factors in schools and school systems which were sensitive to initial conditions. Six factors of schools were identified from data reported by principals that generated butterfly effect incidents. Those factors included curriculum, discipline, extracurricular activities, personnel, school community, and transportation/facilities. School system levels of origination of incidents were also identified with most incidents beginning at the school level. Also principals reported more incidents were precipitated by decisions than by behaviors. Categories of ripple effects of incidents also emerged from the data analysis. These included initial, communication, emotional, mediation, news media, coercive and outcome ripple effects.

Document Type

Dissertation - unrestricted