Page 81 - Volume 6 - Issue 1 - DBU Journal for K-12 Educational Leadership

Journal of K-12 Educational Research 79 hinder the interpretation of data due to personal bias and assumptions. Therefore, the researcher employed the process of bracketing, or thoroughly examining personal experiences and setting them aside in order to fully comprehend and convey the essence of the other superintendents’ experiences with professional networks during the COVID-19 pandemic (Creswell & Poth, 2018). Qualitative data analysis included multiple line by line readings of interview transcripts and the use of ATLAS. ti 22 software to code transcripts and identify emerging themes across participants’ responses. The researcher also comparatively analyzed documents from each participant’s district regarding COVID-19 response protocols and communication with the school community. Verification of the research data and analysis included member checks, peer review of the coding and themes, and interviews with key informants who facilitated networking opportunities for superintendents during the COVID-19 crisis and have specialized knowledge that provides context to participant responses. Findings and Interpretation of Results The current study examined the perceptions and lived experiences of superintendents in small, rural Texas districts when interacting with professional networks during the COVID-19 crisis. The study sought to answer one overarching research question. Research Question (RQ) How do superintendents in small, rural districts describe their experience with professional networks during the COVID-19 crisis? To provide thorough and comprehensive understanding of superintendents’ interaction with professional networks before, during, and after the emergence of COVID-19, the current study included three sub-questions reflective of that timeline. Sub-Question 1 (SQ1) Before the COVID-19 pandemic, how did superintendents in small, rural districts interact with professional networks? Sub-Question 2 (SQ2) During the COVID-19 pandemic, how did these interactions with professional networks change? Sub-Question 3 (SQ3) After the initial year of the COVID-19 pandemic, what recommendations do superintendents in small, rural districts have for professional networks in terms of support during a crisis? Interaction with Professional Networks Prior to COVID-19 Prior to COVID-19, superintendents of small, rural districts preferred to interact within their own informal networks consisting of mentors, family members, colleagues from previous positions, and peers who are in close geographical proximity. The frequent interaction reflects established and comfortable relationships that superintendents value for personal and professional support among those who relate to common experiences. Superintendents trust their informal networks for more than the exchange of questions or resources regarding personnel, operation, school finance, and other challenges. They consider them a safe place to express frustrations and share experiences with their peers which lessens the sense of isolation that is common for superintendents in small, rural districts. The Superintendent Leadership Academy and the Superintendent Forum occur each month at ESC Region 12 and provide a “closed group” opportunity for superintendents to interact with colleagues throughout the region. The ESC personnel often provide contracted services to superintendents in small, rural districts, which allows them to develop relationships and familiarity. Therefore, even though the ESC staff facilitate a formal professional network as an organization, superintendents consider it an expanded version of their local informal groups. Formal professional networks facilitated through statewide organizations or agencies were a minimal part of small, rural superintendents’ professional networking prior to COVID-19. Superintendents reported interaction as one-way communication from the organization and often questioned how applicable the information was to small districts. Most did not consider this to be true engagement with a professional network, which reflects the absence of established relationships between small, rural superintendents and large organizations.