Leadership in Friends schools: The experiences of school heads

Martha B Bryans, University of Pennsylvania


Friends (Quaker) schools represent a small segment of education in the United States. According to the Friends Council on Education, 76 Friends schools enroll 19,100 students and employ over 3,200 faculty and staff. In spite of its nearly 300-year history, Friends education has not been extensively studied. This research examined the dynamics of leadership beliefs, practices, and development within Friends (Quaker) schools. The central research questions were: how do school heads describe and experience leadership in Friends schools? How do these people prepare for leadership? Who learns these things, and when are they receptive to this learning? What are the roles of individuals and of Quaker institutions in identifying and preparing future leaders? This qualitative study collected data through personal interviews with 28 current and former Friends school heads. This data formed the basis for understanding individual career paths, including the influences of gender and race. A second feature of the study was to explore how the heads understood leadership in a context that values equality and broad-based participation. Finally, the dissertation proposes a leadership development program for Friends schools, incorporating study findings. The model emphasizes recognition, sponsorship, and use of Quaker decision-making practices, including the query, minute, and reflective pause. According to this research, gender and race were highly influential in career paths. However, gender was not a strong influence in leadership: for example, school heads regardless of gender described their work as collaborative, or directive. Heads indicated strong values congruence with Friends schools, and appreciated the importance of decision-making processes. Quaker decision-making practices were under-utilized as resources for leadership. Friends schools can be viewed as both “margin” (Nee-Benham & Cooper, 1998) and “individual variation” (J. Dewey, 1916) of schooling in the United States. Margins define both the shape and content of the whole. Individual variations can be a source of new growth. This study suggests that Friends schools might offer a unique contribution to educational leadership to the extent that leaders in Friends schools incorporate community expectation for broad-based participation in decision-making.

Subject Area

School administration

Recommended Citation

Bryans, Martha B, "Leadership in Friends schools: The experiences of school heads" (2000). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9991692.