An Exploration of the Early Upbringings of Fourteen Charter School Leaders and Their Sensemaking of Its Effects on Their Roles as Influencers

Denniston M. Reid, University of Pennsylvania


Evocative professional development (PD) can enhance the capacity for leadership. PD for charter school leaders should engage dimensions of their identities, including their sensemaking of upbringing and their perceptions of influence. The dearth of existing studies tying leaders’ effectiveness directly to their sensemaking of upbringing and its effects suggests a gap in leadership training offerings. This study’s participants were part of a cohort of leaders engaged in an ongoing PD program. That program was rooted in a quest to help leaders understand the resonant leaders within themselves (McKee, Boyatzis, & Johnston, 2008). Two research questions drove this study: (1) How do these school leaders describe their upbringing? and (2) How does their sensemaking about upbringing influence their roles as leaders in the context of their schools? I used semi-structured interviews as my primary data collection instrument. The leaders shared memories of the influences throughout their upbringings and the people they believed shaped their sensemaking. Through a three-part approach to data analysis, I codified the leaders’ upbringings and identified a set of leadership typologies. Since this work involved people with whom I work closely, their voices needed to validate my gaze into their lives. In addition to member checks, I deployed another set of interviews that enlisted the participants’ sensemaking of my codification of their upbringing. These re-interviews, a method I called a holistic validation of my external gaze, allowed participants to share insights into my analysis of their upbringing. Their feedback gave additional insights into their sensemaking and validated or challenged how descriptions of upbringing were framed and analyzed. The study produced three primary findings: 1. the context of the leaders’ upbringing revealed some aspects of their identity formation; 2. a dominant leader typology, linked to upbringing, emerged for each study participant; and 3. the leaders’ sensemaking of their upbringing and influence provided some valuable insights into how and why they functioned as influencers. This study suggests a need for continued exploration of the connections between leaders and their upbringing and leaders and their followers in context.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Educational administration|Educational sociology

Recommended Citation

Reid, Denniston M., "An Exploration of the Early Upbringings of Fourteen Charter School Leaders and Their Sensemaking of Its Effects on Their Roles as Influencers" (2020). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI28026575.