Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Education/Leadership in Urban Schools

First Advisor

Zeena Zakharia

Second Advisor

Francine Menashy

Third Advisor

Lilia I. Bartolome


Research on the nature of English learner (EL) leadership and its relationship within the school organization is scant. By examining how EL leaders within the English Only context of Massachusetts make meaning of their work, this interpretative phenomenological study contributes to filling this gap. Additionally, this study offers a more specific description of the roles of EL leaders in relation to the larger organizations in which they work. While some research has focused on the importance of shared and distributed leadership in relation to principals and other educators, few of these studies address the more nuanced ways in which different leaders’ roles are perceived within this shared leadership space. Through a comprehensive study of these relationships via critical and social justice leadership lenses, this study defines EL leadership within an English Only state.

Just as their English learner counterparts, many EL leaders are marginalized, and they face many obstacles toward enacting a leadership that supports equitable practices for EL students. As this study demonstrates, EL leadership is not well understood and is perceived negatively within the English Only context. These factors create an imbalance in power between EL leaders and other district leaders, which in turn, negatively impacts EL leaders’ abilities to effectively perform their roles.

This study shows that EL leaders face many obstacles in developing EL policy, due to failure by others to recognize specific EL student needs, cultural differences, and underlying racist perceptions. The findings suggest that districts require more compliance oversight and accountability so that EL leaders are better able to offer equitable and quality programs for students. This was especially true within the Spring 2020 context of the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated EL students’ academic and socio-emotional needs.

This study has implications for educators such as EL leaders, district leaders, and community stakeholders who seek to recognize EL leadership as an asset to be increasingly valued and explored. The findings also have implications for policy development within the realm of EL education, which may benefit from defining and recognizing more fully the importance of including EL leaders in all conversations regarding the students they represent.


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