Private-independent school headship for women: A grounded theory study

by Pernambuco-Wise, Tekakwitha M., Ed.D., SAINT MARY'S COLLEGE OF CALIFORNIA, 2012, 303 pages; 3541235


This qualitative, grounded theory (GT) study examined the relationships that affect the attainment of and sustainment in headship for women who lead K-12, NAIS, private-independent schools. Data were gathered from 19 female Heads of School (HOS) through semi-structured interviews, curriculum vitae review, and demographic surveys. The HOS data were triangulated with data from eight female and four male search firm consultants. Data were analysed using the constant-comparative method of classical GT methodology. Whilst literature exists on public school Superintendents, there is scant information on private-independent school Heads. These two leadership positions are similar enough that a parallel was drawn, enabling extant literature to inform this study. Historically, the position of Superintendent was created to ensure that men would remain in managerial authority in the educational field and the process of attaining the post was such that women were excluded from the superintendency. Ten categories emerged from the data. Four were related to Barriers for attainment and sustainment in headship for women ('Unspoken Biases' [in vivo], 'Risky Candidate', 'Lifestyle versus Job', and 'Being Lonely') and six to Supports ('Foundation', 'Skills', 'Support', 'Opportunity', 'Voice' and 'Changing Times, Changing Position'). The substantive theory that emerged from this GT study is: 'Women, unlike men, who aspire to private-independent school headship must prove beyond a doubt that they are highly competent in all aspects of headship. Furthermore, to ascend to the position, they must have the following perfectly aligned: preparation, opportunity, advocacy, and support.' Unlike the superintendency, the findings in this study indicated that in private-independent school headship, the position's construct did not directly exclude women from the post. Being equipped with the right skill set, having mentors and advocates, being supported professionally and personally, and being given the opportunity, women can successfully attain headship and flourish in the position; thus, filling the shortage in school Heads that has been predicted by NAIS to occur by 2020. Recommendations for further study include examining leadership styles of female HOS, comparing male and female HOS experiences, and studying HOS who do not match traditional descriptors such as being European American, heterosexual, and a professional educator.

Keywords: grounded theory, superintendency, headship, private school education, independent school education, women in leadership, women administrators, mentorship, K-12 school administration, school Head recruitment.

AdviserKathleen Taylor
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsEducational leadership; Women's studies; Educational administration
Publication Number3541235

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