Theses Doctoral

The Silent Leaders of Schools: An Exploratory Case Study of High School Department Chairs in Modern Orthodox Yeshivas

Harari, Rachel Rikki

The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore with a group of nine NYC high school department chairs from three different Modern Orthodox yeshivas, their perceptions of their role and responsibilities, their perceptions on how they manage any challenges they might face, how they support professional growth through any of the four pillar practices of teaming, collegial inquiry, mentoring, and providing leadership roles, and how their descriptions of their role as department chair connected to Learning Forward’s 10 roles for teacher leadership.

I conducted two ninety-minute interviews with the nine participants, observed one department meeting for each participant, and piloted a survey to 24 department chairs within the three Modern Orthodox yeshivas in my study. In terms of responsibilities, I found that all nine department chairs had difficulty differentiating between the terms “role” and “responsibilities” because of the ambiguity within the role, all nine chairs described administrative responsibilities in their roles which varied by discipline and by years of experience, and all three English chairs seemed to unify their departments through their curricular responsibilities. I also found that all nine chairs described enacting all ten of Learning Forward’s Leadership Roles through their various responsibilities at different times.

In terms of challenges and supports, I found that there were four types of challenges department chairs described: (a) feeling ill-prepared when first becoming chair, (b) facing conflicts with teachers in their departments during that time, (c) teaching a full course load as chair, and (d) challenges with chairing during the month of November. I identified five ways department chairs found support for these challenges: (a) from an individual on the school’s leadership team, (b) other department chairs, (c) the teachers in their departments, (d) outside mentoring programs, and (e) their partners.

In terms of pillar practices, I learned that the chairs who described feeling supported by the pillar practices when they took on the role (5/9) used these supports in their own practice with teachers in their departments. Additionally, all nine chairs described aspects of teaming, collegial inquiry, mentoring, and providing leadership roles to teachers as a means of support. Finally, I found that the chairs who responded to the survey (n=24) reported creating a holding environment for the teachers in their departments through the pillar practices teaming and collegial inquiry by having teachers in their departments share ideas, sharing decision making with their teachers, reflecting with teachers on their practice, and engaging in meaningful conversations with their teachers about teaching and learning. My findings have implications for school leaders, education leadership theorists, and education leadership preparation programs.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Education Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Drago-Severson, Eleanor
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 3, 2023