Who Ya Gonna Call? Networks of Rural School Administrators

Article excerpt

When they need help or advice, who are rural school administrators going to call? Relationships among rural school administrators develop into networks that can affect the success of administrators and their schools. Understanding the structure and content of these networL· provides insights into how resources, innovations, and communication flow both within and between rural district administrators. Based on network theory and analysis, this study examines the structure, content, and strategic implications of the administrative networL· within and across six contiguous rural school districts in the Western United States. Network graphs are included, illustrating both individual district and the combined six-district rural administrator networL·. While acquaintance ties and active work ties are evident both within and across districts, relationally embedded ties and greater cohesion of ties are more evident within districts than across districts. Analyses include consideration of administrative assignment, gender, and geographical location of the network structures. Strategic implications of the network structures and content are discussed.

Key Words: Administrative networks, leadership, resources, network theory, school performance

Professional and social network relationships among administrators develop into structures that can affect the success of both administrators and their schools (J. M. Hite, Williams, & Baugh, 2005; Moolenaar, Daly, & Sleeters, in press). Understanding these networks can provide a beneficial perspective on the complexity within which educational leaders must function (Sparrowe, Liden, Wayne, & Kraimer, 2001). Educational leaders intuitively understand the importance of building and maintaining their networks. While many network relationships are formalized in official organizational charts, the majority and often the most commonly used and useful are likely to be intangible and informal, based on the leaders' social networks (Daly & Finnigan, 2010; Ibarra, 1992; Krackhardt & Hanson, 1993).

Educational administrators may not be aware of the potentially critical role such informal administrative network relationships often play in their work toward improving schools. They are even less likely to be cognizant of the larger network structure created when these relationships are combined, or of their own structural positions within this administrative network (Snow, Miles, & Coleman, 1992). Naturally and functionally, leaders in rural education place focus on developing network relationships within their own districts and communities (Harmon & Schafft, 2009). This administrative focus on the internal district network, without a sufficient focus on building broader networks of cross-district relationships, may be both of particular strategic interest as well as of potential concern for rural school districts (Borgatti & Foster, 2003; Budge, 2006; J. M. Hite, et al., 2005). With only a few administrators and thus greater need for cross-district collaboration to access information, capabilities, and resources for effective school performance (Await & Jolly, 1999), rural administrators may find it to their advantage to understand how to create or enhance cross-district administrative networks. This study examines the structure and content of administrative networks both within and across six rural school districts and identifies potential strategic implications of these relationships among rural school administrators.

Theoretical Framework

The study of organizational networks focuses on the interpersonal and professional relationships and structures of organizations such as schools or districts. Network methods identify these network structures, and network theory seeks to explain both the influences on and strategic outcomes of these networks (Borgatti & Foster, 2003; Brass, Galaskiewicz, Greve, & Tsai, 2004; Kilduff & Tsai, 2003; Scott, 2000). …