THE SUPERINTENDENT AS INSTRUCTIONAL LEADER:A QUALITATIVE STUDY OF RURAL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENTS IN WASHINGTON STATE
Smith, Dave Eugene
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The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the role of the rural school district superintendent as instructional leader. Specifically, the study focused on rural superintendents who were known as effective instructional leaders and explored their understandings of and motivations for their instructional leadership work, how they fulfilled this work, and how this work was affected by recent federal and state policy initiatives. The study addressed these questions: (a) what are rural school district superintendents’ understandings of their role and responsibilities as instructional leader?; (b) what are rural school district superintendents’ perspectives on the various facets of instructional leadership?; (c) what do rural school district superintendents actually do to fulfill their roles as instructional leaders?; (d) what are rural school district superintendents’ perspectives on their preparation for instructional leadership and their need for continuous professional development?; and (e) how has recent federal and state legislation affected the work of the rural school superintendent as instructional leader? Data were collected through open-ended, phenomenologically oriented interviews with four rural school district superintendents in northeast Washington State. Analysis of the qualitative data resulted in the unearthing of seven major themes: (a) setting direction, (b) supporting the instructional growth of the district, (c) the superintendents’ direct involvement with the classroom, (d) acquiring resources for the instructional program, (e) the superintendents’ work developing principal instructional leadership, (f) the self-development of the district instructional leader, and (g) challenges faced by rural school district instructional leaders. Each theme also discussed the impact of the rural district context on that theme. Four conclusions were drawn from the study: (a) rural school district superintendents communicate a focus on improved teaching and learning by being heavily engaged in the classrooms observing teaching; (b) rural school district superintendents engage with other rural districts to provide aligned and collaborative professional development; (c) superintendents rely heavily on one another to lead instructionally; and (d) the remote context provides rural school district superintendents with additional and unique challenges to instructional leadership. My hope is that this study will inform effective rural superintendent instructional leadership and lead to discussions regarding policy and research to support superintendents facing rural contextual leadership challenges.