Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Educational Leadership


Richard Ackerman

Second Committee Member

Gordon Donaldson

Third Committee Member

Paul Knowles

Additional Committee Members

Sarah Mackenzie

Constance Perry


Researchers have established the role of superintendent as critical to the success of school systems, difficult to define, and complicated to perform. The historical development of the job set the foundation for a role that is subject to high levels of stress, emotional exhaustion, and burnout. Studies have shown that the increasing complexity and demands of the job are forcing many experienced leaders out, and that the applicant pools for the positions they vacate are often small and void of high quality candidates. While there have also been studies of how superintendents manage the challenges presented by the job, there are none that address the question of how superintendents thrive in the role.

The goal of this qualitative study was to explore empirically how five Massachusetts public school superintendents thrive in the face of persistent values-related dilemmas. All of the participants had at least 10 years of experience as superintendents, and were determined to demonstrate characteristics of thriving through a purposive criteria sampling procedure. The primary data collection method was three interviews with each of the five superintendents. The study explored the extent to which superintendents thrive as a result of their recognition and response to persistent values related dilemmas.

The study found that superintendents who seemed to thrive were more likely to: be attuned to the values embedded in their work; have a strong sense of moral purpose, and embrace the role of teaching, and protect and enhance their well-being through selfawareness and learning. The study also concluded that it appears thriving in the superintendency goes beyond existing understandings of the concept, and suggests that those who thrive seem committed to bringing change to their school communities, or at least to those involved in the dilemmas they face. Through this commitment, they appear to experience new levels of enthusiasm and energy as they attempt to move those around them to higher levels of understanding and, in some instances, to new levels of performance. The study has implications for practice for current and aspiring superintendents of school, particularly for understanding the elements of how they might thrive in their role.