If and to what extent spirituality impacts the leadership practices of four African American superintendents

Christopher James Williams Sr.

Abstract

Public school superintendents have one of the most challenging, demanding, and visible positions in American society. They provide educational leadership in approximately 15,499 school districts across the United States. Their visibility is marked by the fact that the majority of leadership positions are held by non-minority individuals (American Association of School Administrators, 1992). The underrepresentation of minorities in public school leadership positions on a national level has been thoroughly documented over the years, and the limited representation of African Americans in top positions of public school administration is glaring (AASA, 1992, 1983; Jones & Montenegro, 1988, 1985; Montenegro, 1993). The purpose of this qualitative study was to understand if and to what extent spirituality impacts the leadership practices of four African American superintendents. The focus of the study was to explore how these administrators living in the South constructed and/or defined leadership; what obstacles or barriers, if any affected their path to leadership; and if to what extent their spirituality is embedded into their leadership practices. Critical Race Theory (CRT), with its focus on defining, addressing, and exposing educational problems, was the theoretical framework used to guide this study. The sample consisted of four participants, each serving in the capacity of assistant superintendent or superintendent. Each participant was interviewed in the setting of his or her choice and then allowed the researcher to conduct field notes through participant observations. This experience allowed the researcher to observe the superintendents' leadership practices, and how each participant was received by their staff. Interviews provided rich descriptions of how the research participants perceived these leadership practices with an emphasis being on spirituality. Through case study analysis, nine main themes and 20 subthemes were identified. The main themes included: leadership paradigm, influences on leadership, barriers and obstacles, spiritual expression, spirituality versus religiosity, spiritual influences, spirituality and the workplace, spiritual journey, and spiritual influences on leadership practices. Cross-case analysis revealed a small number of subthemes shared across cases. Differences between cases were considerable and were presented via the identification of new subthemes and unique cases. Recommendations are offered for future research and tentatively, for future African Americans who aspire to become superintendents. Most notably, participants in this study saw themselves as "visionary leaders" who are truly invested in the lives and welfare of the children and adults they serve in their prospective school districts. They did, however, give advice on essential tools needed by future African American leaders who aspire to become superintendents.