The role of high school department chairs in a large suburban school system

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

While the literature indicates that virtually all high schools have department chairs, little research has been done that examines the role of the department chair or how they spend their time. The publication of A Nation At Risk and the reports that followed have placed greater emphasis on instructional leadership leading many to suggest that department chairs are being under utilized within their school.

The purpose of this study was to describe how high school department chairs spend their time; what principals, teachers, and department chairs believe should be the role of the department chair; and to examine the discrepancies between reported time spent and reported role the department chair should have in the areas of supervision, curriculum, personnel, management, communications, and staff development.

A descriptive survey method was used in the study. The sample consisted of 22 high school principals, 88 department chairs, and 264 teachers in a large suburban school system. From a list of items identified through a search of the literature as tasks performed by department chairs, the respondents were asked to indicate the amount of time spent on each task and the importance of each task to the role the department chair should have. Descriptive statistics including frequencies, percentages and means were used to report results.

It was found that all groups were in general agreement as to how department chairs spend their time, but disagreed on the amount of time spent. Principals and department chairs perceived department chairs spent more time on most tasks than did teachers. The greatest amount of time spent by department chairs was on tasks related to management and communication.

All groups agreed that the role of the department chair should be expanded to increase responsibilities in management, communications, personnel, and curriculum. However, an expansion of the role in staff development was seen as more important by principals and department chairs than by teachers. Principals indicated greater support for a role expansion in supervision than did department chairs or teachers.