Department Chair Instructional Leadership at Independent Schools
Osborne, Jaime, Administration and Supervision - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Eddy Spicer, David, CU-Leadshp, Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia
Department chairs can serve as crucial connections to teaching practice, and yet their role as intermediaries is typically not used effectively for improving instruction. The literature on independent schools suggests that understanding how the capacity of department chairs develop as instructional leaders is a need, given that independent schools exist in a competitive environment (Evans, 2013; Fish & Wolking, 2019; Orem, 2017; Torres, 2013; Torres, 2017). In this capstone project, I researched the ways in which school-level leaders and department chairs understand the role of department chair as instructional leader among independent schools that seek to promote an instructional leadership focus for the position. The independent schools in my study are located within an approximately 100-mile radius of Washington, DC and are similar in terms of enrollment and grade levels. Through my research, I identify the ways in which school-level leaders and department chairs perceive that the role of department chair is constituted (i.e. department chair leadership practices), enacted (i.e. internal conditions that support and facilitate the role of department chair as instructional leader), and developed (i.e. practices used by school-level leaders that develop the cognitive, affective, interpersonal, and intrapersonal skills needed for department chair leadership).
I reviewed the literature on department chairs and independent schools, as well as research that examines how principals support instructional leadership capacity of teacher-leaders. My review of the literature indicated that department chair instructional leadership capacity is the result of effective school leadership practices, and my study aimed to offer insights that would enable independent schools that seek to focus the role of department chair as instructional leader to define the role, provide support, and develop the capacity of those who serve in the role.
The conceptual framework for my study hypothesizes that the role of department chair as instructional leader is comprised of three elements: constitution, enactment, and development. The demand environment (Greenfield, 1995) compels school-level leaders to enact leadership and re-focus the role of department chair as instructional leader. Moreover, my conceptual framework posits that school-level leaders implement “pillar practices” (Drago-Severson, 2007) to develop the internal capacities of department chairs and build capacity for instructional leadership.
I collected data in the fall of 2018 and the spring of 2019 using a qualitative multiple case-study design. I conducted semi-structured interviews with the school-level leader identified by the head of school at each school as working most closely with department chairs. In addition, I conducted semi-structured interviews with three department chairs from each school in my study. In total, I interviewed four school-level leaders and twelve department chairs at four independent schools.
Findings from the independent schools in this study showed alignment with the elements identified in my conceptual framework: constitution, enactment, and development. There were differences, however, between school-level leaders’ and department chairs’ understanding of the role of department chair as instructional leader.
School-level leaders espoused the role of department chair as one that sets directions and builds relationships and develops people in order to fulfill mission alignment. They perceived department chair instructional leadership is supported by time and they explained that department chairs develop in their role by use of mentoring and teaming. Department chairs understood the constitution of the role in a similar way to school-level leaders, but expressed a need to also secure accountability in order to achieve mission alignment. Due to their perception of teacher autonomy within each of their schools, they perceived department chair instructional leadership is supported by school-level leaders standing behind them as they make decisions from a middle-management standpoint. Furthermore, they perceived that department chair capacity is primarily developed through leadership opportunities and mentoring, and they expressed a desire for collegial inquiry.
EDD (Doctor of Education)
department chairs, instructional leadership, independent schools, development
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