Mary Ellen Steele-Pierce, Ph.D. is a 2006 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Dissertation Committee

  • Jon Wergin, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Laurien Alexandre, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Lisa Laskow Lahey, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Eleanor Drago-Severson, Ph.D., External Reader


Leadership, Concept Mapping, Educational Administration, Teachers' Thinking, Cognitive Map

Document Type


Publication Date



Leading and teaching both involve processes that permit others to transform their thinking. Yet there has been little systematic, empirical research to connect the two. This exploratory study examines K-12 educational leadership asking: What are the similarities and differences in the ways school administrators think about "leading" compared to the ways teachers think about "teaching"? This mixed methods study offers an examination of whether administrators think about their work in terms of "the vital teaching role of leadership" (Burns, 1978, p. 425) by creating and comparing three sets of concept maps, one for teachers and administrators and one for each of the two groups disaggregated. Two participant samples provided the data. Focus group members generated 100 statements, and card sorting participants rated and categorized the concepts. Concept mapping (Trochim, 2005) produced maps with geographic clusters that revealed patterns of thinking. Clusters fell into two geographic segments: Personal and Extra-Personal. The concept of holding environment (Kegan, 1982, 1994; Heifetz, 1994) and its components, challenge and support, provided a construct for the maps' interpretations. Disaggregating the rating data and statistical analyses revealed areas of similarity and differences suggesting: 1) administrators and teachers strongly value the Personal (Support) aspects of their work; 2) both rate the Extra-Personal cluster "Create some tension" lower than other aspects of their work; 3) administrators rate the Extra-Personal (Challenge) aspects of their work higher than teachers; and 4) administrators rate the Extra-Personal clusters "Political awareness" and "Using evidence and data" significantly higher than teachers. Disaggregating the data to create separate maps for administrators and teachers reveals a dimension, the Intra-Personal, that appears only on the administrators' map. Disaggregated data show that administrators rate the concept cluster "Challenge the Status Quo" least important of all other areas of their work. These findings can inform the work of school change agents and administrator development programs. Research recommendations include creating maps of business or political leaders' thinking using the 100 teaching concepts, and developing cognitive maps of individual administrators using think-aloud interviews during sorting and rating procedures. The electronic version of this dissertation is accessible at the OhioLINK ETD Center,