Using social network methods to study school leadership

Virginia M. Pitts, James P. Spillane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Social network analysis is increasingly used in the study of policy implementation and school leadership. A key question that remains is that of instrument validity -that is, the question of whether these social network survey instruments measure what they purport to measure. In this paper, we describe our work to examine the validity of the School Staff Social Network Questionnaire (SSSNQ), an instrument designed to study instructional leadership practice. To examine the validity of the survey, we conducted two studies. The first involved administration of the SSSNQ in 22 schools and interviews with a sub-sample of school staff in six of these schools. The second study involved cognitive interviews in which interviewees were asked to 'think aloud' as they completed a revised version of the SSSNQ. Our findings indicate that the SSSNQ did identify leadership operationalized as social influence interactions. Furthermore, the SSSNQ allowed us to move away from an exclusive focus on school principals and other formally designated leaders to include non-positional leaders, and allowed us to capture informal leadership interactions that would have been missed had we focused solely on formal organizational routines. In this respect, the SSSNQ offers an important research instrument for examining school leadership.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)185-207
Number of pages23
JournalInternational Journal of Research and Method in Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2009


  • Educational measurement
  • General methodology
  • Mixed methods
  • Survey research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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