Introducing My Dissertation

Recently I was asked to write a blurb about my plans for my doctoral dissertation – what it is and why I’m interested in it.  Here’s what I had to say:


My research will focus on analyzing and evaluating how a suburban K-12 school district in NJ has implemented distributed leadership practices.  As I stated in the first chapter of my dissertation, my goals are:

  • to provide a thick, rich description of distributed leadership practices at a mid-size suburban New Jersey school district, particularly teacher leadership
  • to explore, per Spillane, et al. (2004), the hows and whys behind effective district-wide and level-specific distributed leadership practices
  • to quantify teacher attitudes and perceptions relative to distributed leadership practices in their district.

There is a gap in the research base on context-specific (e.g., high school, elementary school) distributed leadership practices, and I aim to contribute to that emerging body of literature with this study.

I’ve been interested in the idea of distributed leadership, and teacher leadership in general, since before I even applied to this program.  I have worked in environments where leadership was distributed to some degree, as well as in very traditional “top-down” districts, and I know which one I preferred: the one where I felt I had a voice or some stake in what was happening.  I felt trusted and respected as a professional in the more distributed environment; not so much otherwise.

In addition to the stated goals, I’m thinking/hoping that my research will help me understand the reasoning process behind why the district makes some of the decisions it does with regard to distributed leadership.  In doing so, I hope to gain a greater understanding of the decision-making process behind implementing DL so that I can do so effectively when I’m in an official leadership position (e.g., principal, director, etc.).  While a school leader certainly can’t make all the employees happy all the time, I think there’s a lot to be said for having employees who feel valued and respected, even if they don’t always agree with you, and how that impacts on their ability to do their job and serve children.  In short, I’m thinking this dissertation field research is the next best thing to on-the-job training for me when I get my own shop to run.


Disclaimer: This represents where I stand on my dissertation as of the date of this post.  Much can happen between now and the end of 2014, when I plan to finish, so things may change.  Also, this research will all be dependent on securing the necessary permissions, which I have not yet done.

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