Document Type



Doctor of Education


Educational Administration

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

Virginia Navarro, PhD.


Brown, Kathleen

Davis, Matthew

Hensley, Thomas


This instrumental case study explores how the Ethic of Care is experienced within one Midwestern school system as an alternative approach to traditional school system hierarchical infrastructures. Through the qualitative tradition of portraiture (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997), this study documents the caring leadership actions, behaviors and styles of a superintendent who has transformed the identity of a Midwest school district. Analysis of triangulated data from multiple in-depth interviews, teacher surveys, field observations, district archival data, superintendent publications, and shadowing days, provide a narrative account using thick description (Rossman & Rallis, 2003) to illuminate how care translates into practice and how that practice is experienced and perceived by district faculty. While other studies have looked at the decision-making processes of school administrators based on care and /or justice orientations (DeVore, 2006; Hanson, 2000), I deconstruct the essence of caring leadership by documenting the underpinning values, dispositions, thinking and behaviors of one female superintendent chosen as a paradigm case of Ethic of Care leadership based on reputable recommendations (Brunner, 2002). Data collection and analyses focused on two questions: (1) What are the practices that constitute an Ethic of Care approach to leadership? and (2) How does an Ethic of Care shape the culture of a school district? Five themes emerged from the data: engaged leadership, studious culture, thoughtful presentation, sweat equity, and perpetual evolution. The results of this study indicate that caring leadership requires (1) a conscious decision to consider others in decision-making processes, (2) an appreciation for relationships and community building, (3) respect for others (regardless of their title), and (4) a dedication to nurturing relationships and culture by establishing strong and consistent patterns of communication. This research contributes to the literature by outlining an emergent set of Ethic of Care principles to guide educational leaders in developing caring leadership.

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