Year of Publication

2017

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Education

Department

Education Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Wayne Lewis

Abstract

The modern school superintendent fulfills a unique role in the American public education system. He or she is structurally empowered as the de facto head of the local educational system, thereby granted with a certain amount of trust and authority regarding educational issues. At the same time, the superintendent is, in most cases, an employee of a politically appointed school board. This construction creates a dynamic wherein the superintendent is both the leader of a highly structured, bureaucratic system, while at the same time an employee of a largely lay, often elected, group of citizens.

The position of the superintendent is highly informed by the role conceptualizations first posited by Callahan (1966). Callahan argued that there are four distinct normative roles that superintendents must fill: scholarly educational leader, business executive, educational statesman, and applied social scientist. In this study, I pay special attention to the role of educational statesman, which is alternatively referred to as political strategist by later scholars (Björk & Gurley, 2005; Brunner, Grogan, & Björk, 2002).

I have examined the role of political strategist as it has manifest on the social media platform Twitter. Twitter use has become a common practice among educational leaders for a variety of reasons, including the development of professional learning networks, communicating with stakeholders, and even engaging in policy discussions (Roth, 2016; Sauers & Richardson, 2015). To date, the intersection of social media use and political engagement by superintendents has been overlooked within the field, but the practice is common and has significant importance for the discipline.

I employed a two-phase analysis to explore this topic. First, I have utilized discourse analysis to better understand the constructive nature of the talk and text provided by superintendents on Twitter. The second phase of analysis employs a modified photo-elicitation methodology, wherein a subset of superintendents (7) were interviewed in a semi-structured format prompted by instances of their own political tweeting.

Findings from this study indicate that superintendents are using Twitter to discuss macro-political topics and employ sophisticated strategies in order to both project the image they want to be seen and to protect themselves from the political ramifications that might accompany such discourse. I believe that these findings have importance in the way superintendents engage with their community stakeholders and indicate that there should be more attention paid to an evolving nature of communication for the position.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2017.087

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