Independent school department heads: The influence of role ambiguity, relationships, and professional development on career aspirations

Shane Kinsella, Fordham University


Little research exists on the career aspirations of department heads in independent schools. What does exist focuses on public school teachers in the United States and the United Kingdom. This study sought to determine the career aspirations, job satisfaction, and job efficacy of department heads. Using data from an original survey instrument ISLE (Independent School Leadership for Excellence©), the researcher measured the demographic and professional profiles of department heads. Additionally, department heads rated their job efficacy, job satisfaction, career aspirations, role involvement, and sense of preparedness for their positions. Department heads (507) in independent high schools were invited to participate and the data for 196 responses (38.7% response rate) were analyzed. Independent school department heads had an equal chance of being male or female, were principally white and well educated (90% with a master's degree or beyond). Department heads expressed strong levels of job efficacy and satisfaction, along with positive relationships with their administrators and principals. Approximately one third of department heads expressed an interest in becoming a principal. The majority of department heads wished to remain in their current positions. Respondents' senses of job efficacy and satisfaction were influenced by the 10 roles explored in this study. These included mentoring, observing, and evaluating department members. Job efficacy and satisfaction were influenced by the quality of training respondents received and the frequency of meetings with the principal. No significant correlations were found between career aspirations and the department roles. Career aspirations correlated with meetings with the principal, age, and the lack of teaching time principals have. The best predictors for job satisfaction were leadership training and appropriate compensation. Job efficacy was best predicted by job satisfaction, curriculum development, observing department members, and leadership training. Career aspirations were best predicted by department heads' age and the eagerness to become a principal. Recommendations include establishing a mentoring program, developing a list of core skills needed by department heads, and including department heads in whole-school planning.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|School administration|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Kinsella, Shane, "Independent school department heads: The influence of role ambiguity, relationships, and professional development on career aspirations" (2012). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3490815.