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«VIRTUAL K-12 LEADERSHIP: A POSTMODERN PARADIGM by Tommy N. Tucker A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of The College of Education In Partial ...»

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A state teacher says “No, because virtual leadership is held to an immediate-change mentality.” A charter teacher states “No, they are completely different. Very little is the same except the notion of educating students.” Another charter teacher agrees, saying “No. The technology skills, knowledge, and troubleshooting ability really sets this apart.” A district teacher notes “They are different because you must keep up with technology, which is constantly being updated.” For those respondents finding the required skills to be the same, the general message was that leadership is not context sensitive. One state leader states “I believe the skills are inherent – a good leader is a good leader, regardless of the environment.” A charter teacher observes “I think the same set of leadership skills should apply equally to both virtual K-12 leaders and traditional K-12 leaders.” One district teacher notes “Yes, leadership in both arenas have to know technology, hold students accountable for learning the standards, and not let passing rates be the primary reason for educating students.” A more succinct district teacher says “Yes, it seems practically identical.” A state teacher observes “The leadership skills are the same because leadership does not change regardless of the mode you teach.” Summary of Round One Survey Findings Interpreting the responses from the first round survey reveals a bifurcated set of responses to the central research question – Are virtual K-12 leadership and traditional Kleadership the same? In both idealized and actual roles, there were similar traits

expressed for both. They both:

- support students and teachers,

- monitor and evaluate teachers,

- facilitate active communication,

- promote and form relationships,

- provide meaningful professional development, and

- promote individuated instruction.

On the other hand, they differ in ways dictated by the differing contexts of the environments. Unlike traditional K-12 leadership, respondents expect virtual K-12

leadership to have:

- prior teaching experience in both environments,

- higher degree of flexibility and innovativeness,

–  –  –

- a high degree of tech skills and knowledge, and

- communication skills specific to the digitally mediated environment.

With respect to instructional leadership, the respondents found the traits of traditional and virtual K-12 leaders largely the same, aligned with those practices found

in the literature on traditional leadership practice, such as:

- holding regular meetings,

- sharing best practices, and

- promoting teacher-leadership.

With regard to virtual K-12 leaders promoting student achievement, most

respondents gave very traditional responses:

- frequent communication with students,

- frequent student data monitoring,

- recognition of student achievement, and

- extra-curricular activities.

A few of the respondents expressed the contrarian view that virtual K-12 leadership does not promote student achievement in any meaningful way.

When asked about how virtual K-12 leadership is held accountable, some respondents gave traditional responses, like standardized testing and “same as traditional leaders.” Somewhat less traditional responses like constituent feedback and pass/fail rates were also given as accountability measures. A few of the respondents suggested that virtual K-12 leaders are not accountable. Another went so far as to say that virtual K-12 leaders are accountable only for ROI (return on investment).

In responses to the research question “How does context affect the practice of virtual leadership?”, several unique aspects of virtual K-12 education were given as

influential variables affecting the practice of virtual K-12 leadership:

- the underlying digital infrastructure,

- internet-based communication protocols,

- the individualized nature of student interaction,

- availability of unique software tools,

- the flexibility and innovativeness engendered by the context, and

- the unique availability of archival data on all student activity.

In the end, the question of whether or not traditional and virtual K-12 leadership are the same was largely undecided by the survey results. The respondents were nearly

equally divided into three groups. Those who believe that:

- virtual and traditional leadership are the same,

- virtual and traditional leadership are different, and

- virtual and traditional leadership are mostly the same, but differ based on the contextual differences.

Round Two – The Data An examination of the semantic differential data. For purposes of analysis, it should be noted that those terms that generally reflected a positive light on virtual K-12 leadership were on the right, or positive side of each semantic differential item. Since all aggregated response data tended to land on that side of the ranking scale, the percentage calculations in the table might best be viewed as a “favorability index” (F.I.) with respect to the term on the right side of the semantic differential item. 100% would represent complete agreement with the term or concept. A representation of this term has been included in heading for each column (Appendix G).

An analysis of the favorability indices (F.I.) from the table revealed a few interesting patterns. Among all schools, all teachers, and all leaders (in the aggregate), the consensus was that virtual leadership is slightly/moderately different than traditional leadership. However, when leadership is viewed by school type, Charter leaders (n=4) found the greatest differences (F.I.= 76%), District (n=4) and State (n=4) leaders found less difference (F.I.= 67%). State leaders expressed a much lower F.I. (58%) about leadership’s use of relationships to promote student achievement, compared to Charter leaders (F.I.= 75%) or District leaders (83%). State leaders expressed a higher F.I.

concerning the relative collaborative nature of virtual leadership (F.I. = 83%) when compared to District or Charter leaders (F.I. = 67%). District leaders were less inclined to find virtual leadership “More committed” to student achievement (F.I. = 50%) than their Charter or State (F.I. = 67%) counterparts.

When questioned about whether virtual leadership is held accountable to the same degree as traditional leaders, state leaders were in high level of agreement (F.I. = 92%), district leaders were less convinced (F.I. = 75%), and charter leaders even less convinced (F.I. = 58%). Interestingly, State and charter leaders were less convinced that a unique evaluation rubric was necessary for virtual leaders (F.I. = 67%) compared to district leaders (F.I. = 83%).

Another notable observation from the table is the items of least agreement between leadership (n=12) and teachers (n=33). Semantic differential item number two sought respondent opinion of virtual leadership’s focus on profits versus student focus. Among all leaders surveyed, the F.I. was 92%, indicating a high level of agreement that virtual leaders focus on students over profits. The F.I. of all teachers for this item was less, at 83%. The same sort of discrepancy was found for semantic differential item number eleven, which examined the degree of transparency of virtual leadership versus traditional leadership. There was a sixteen point discrepancy for this item, with leaders indicating an F.I. of 83%, compared to teachers at 67%.

Both teachers and leaders have a low opinion of promoting student achievement.

Both report an F.I. of 67% on using relationships to promote student achievement, as measured by semantic differential item number six. Looking at all of the responses to the semantic differential item number eight, which concerns the need for a separate/unique evaluation rubric for virtual leaders, there is a relatively low F.I. of 67% among both teachers and leaders..

In general, based on the F.I. scores of all respondents in the aggregate, there is a moderate level of agreement (F.I. = 77%) with all of the favorable traits assigned to virtual leadership by the semantic differential portion of the survey. There were five semantic differentiated items that scored lower than 83% among all respondents,

indicating a lower degree of agreement. The items scoring lower were:

1. Virtual leaders are more collaborative than traditional leaders

2. Virtual leaders are more committed to student success than traditional leaders

3. Virtual leaders promote student achievement through developing relationships

4. Virtual leadership requires a unique evaluation rubric.

5. Virtual leadership is completely different than traditional leadership Points of agreement. The five most frequently cited points of agreement from

round two extended response question one are:

1. Virtual leadership is flexible & innovative (11)

2. Virtual leadership is student focused (7)

3. Virtual leadership is master communicator (5)

4. Virtual leadership is more collaborative (5)

5. Virtual leadership develops relationships with students (3) Points of disagreement. The five most frequently cited points of disagreement

from round two extended response question two are:

1. Virtual leadership is less committed (8)

2. Virtual leadership is micromanaging (6)

3. Virtual leadership is just a title (4)

4. Virtual leadership has little accountability (4)

5. Virtual leadership is the same as traditional leadership (3) One respondent’s concern. Most of the responses to the final round two survey questions are restatements of earlier responses. Nothing new or novel is revealed in these

answers. However, there was one concern expressed that is worth noting:

I am concerned that (the semantic differential terms) set up false dichotomies, the results of which will be use to characterize “virtual leadership” as though being a leader in a virtual school results in one end of the spectrum for each question and being a leader in a traditional school would result in the other end.

Good leadership has characteristics that transcend the model, whether “traditional” (within which there are many models and leadership styles) or “virtual” (within which there are many models and leadership styles). Examples of some of the false dichotomies presented that have nothing to do with whether the leadership is in a virtual or traditional setting and everything to do with the

individual leader’s style:

–  –  –

- less committed to student success vs. more committed to student success Summary of the Delphi Survey Results Respondents to the round one survey found both similarities and differences evident between virtual and traditional K-12 leadership. In general, respondents found both to be supportive of students and teachers, active communicators, relationship builders, facilitators of professional development, and advocates for individuated instruction. Respondents also found differences in the two. Based on survey responses, virtual K-12 leaders are expected to have prior teaching experience in both environments, a higher degree of flexibility and innovativeness, an ability to lead from a distance, a high degree to tech skills and expertise, and communication skills specific to a digitally mediated environment.

This semantic differentiation was simply a measure of a lesser degree of certainty about the differentiated term. In all cases, there was still a greater degree of agreement with the examined term than with its opposite (i.e., all F.I. scores were 67% or greater).

Findings from the Interviews Interview questions were designed to explore those areas around which there was less consensus expressed in the round two semantic differential survey results. Four of the semantic differential pairs scored less than 83% on the F.I. calculated. Respondents were less certain of virtual leadership being more collaborative, more committed to student success, more relational than transactional with students, or more different than the same as traditional leaders. The first three were used to form interview questions. The fourth item, concerning similarities or difference, was not represented in the teacher / leader interview script. In hindsight, this appears to be a lost opportunity to more fully explore that question of similarities and differences between leaders in virtual and traditional environments. This missing item was directly addressed in the researcher participant’s interview.

After transcribing the interviews and sending them to the interviewees for member checking, the transcribed interviews were analyzed and coded using Atlas Ti software. This allowed the researcher to assign thematic codes to specific passages within the transcriptions and prepare reports to facilitate the analysis of the interview data. These codes are listed in Appendix I. After an initial analysis and assignment of thematic codes, the interviews were re-examined and coded for specific relevance to the research questions, with an emphasis on finding dissenting or less mainstream points of view.

From the interview responses it is easy to see that these virtual educators are thoughtful and fully engaged in their conduct of virtual K-12 education. Subtle differences in the views of those in the different schools (charter, district, and state) emerge here as well. The charter school leader was focused on addressing the traditional team-building needs of the school, in a very business leadership manner. The district leader expressed the need for virtual students to take at least one conventional math class to have interaction with other students and learn the correct vocabulary pronunciation.

This implied that the district leader had some reservations about the ability of virtual school to fully address the educational needs of the students. On the other hand, the state school leader expressed a sense of difference, of experienced reality, which could not be understood by traditional leaders that have not experienced it.

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