Academic journal article Science Educator

Science Instructional Leadership: The Role of the Department Chair

Academic journal article Science Educator

Science Instructional Leadership: The Role of the Department Chair

Article excerpt

Abstract

With science teachers facing comprehensive curriculum reform that will shape science education for decades to come, high school department chairs represent a critical resource for instructional leadership and teacher support. While the historical literature on the department chair indicates that chairs are in prime positions to provide instructional leadership, it is also clear that chairs' ability to provide such leadership is limited by lack of line authority, time, role conflict, and ambiguity. Yet the literature and practical experience indicates that department chairs can exert a positive and important influence on instruction and learning within high school science classrooms. Drawing on a historical review of the literature on high school department chairs and on recent literature in science education and instructional leadership, this article presents a conceptual model of science instructional leadership for high school department chairs and discusses implications for researchers and practitioners. The model includes four interdependent leadership capabilities for science instructional leaders: (1) science leadership content knowledge, (2) negotiating context and solving problems, (3) building a collegial learning environment, and (4) advocating for science and science education.

Keywords: department chairs, instructional leadership, science education, high school, conceptual model

Introduction

With the publication of A Framework forK-12 Science Education (National Research Council [NRC], 2012) and release of the Next Generation Science Standards (Achieve, 2013), science teachers face a comprehensive curriculum reform that will shape science education for decades to come. The Framework lays out a vision for science education in which all students "actively engage in scientific and engineering practices and apply crosscutting concepts to deepen their understanding of the core ideas in these fields" (pp. 8-9). Alongside this national standards movement, the state and local contexts for science education are constantly shifting in response to political and social pressures, economic realities, student needs, and science and education research findings.

To provide science teachers with any hope of thriving in this complex environment and achieving the NRC's vision, science education leaders must provide ongoing, targeted support. High school science teachers strongly identify with their academic departments (Siskin, 1994). In fact, science teachers may experience a greater connection to the field of science education than to local school improvement issues (Melville, Hardy, & Bartley, 2011), and science departments represent communities of science educators as much as they do organizational units of schools (Melville & Wallace, 2007). As leaders within these communities, high school science department chairs represent an important resource for instructional leadership. Unfortunately, chair leadership is underresearched and under-used in schools (Weller, 2001).

An empirical answer to the question of how chairs can effectively act as instructional leaders within their schools represents a gap in the science education literature. However, existing literature provides a useful framework for ongoing research and professional practice in this area. This article (1) presents a synthesis of historical literature on the high school department chair highlighting the challenges, contexts, and practices of chairs enacting instructional leadership and (2) proposes a conceptual model of science instructional leadership informed by the historical review and by the recent literature in science education and instructional leadership. Aimed at practitioners and researchers, the goals of this work are to enhance our understanding of chairs' instructional leadership practice and to highlight the role chairs can play in science curriculum reform.

The High School Department Chair: "A race horse with plow-horse duties"*

While early publications were largely anecdotal, a historical review of academic writing on high school department chairs dating from 1910 reveals a surprisingly consistent picture of the position. …

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