Three Essays on Social Networks and Schools

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Jianping Shen, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Dr. LaSonja Roberts, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Dr. Ángel L. Gullón-Rivera, Ph.D.


Educational leadership, principal, social network, student achievement, teacher


Researchers have been increasingly interested in the phenomenon of social networks in education, a research area that provides more opportunities to study the relationships among individuals or organizations in our educational system. The goal of this dissertation was to understand the effect of various social networks on outcomes by investigating various relationships in the educational system. To achieve the goal, three distinct, but related, essays comprised this dissertation.

In the first essay, I examined the effects of interschool networks on student achievement. By using the data collected from the High Impact Leadership (HIL) program and employing the hierarchical linear model (HLM) method, I investigated how different interschool relationships, indicated by various interschool network measures, were associated with student mathematics and reading achievement, and the growth of student mathematics and reading achievement. Key findings included (a) schools that reported to have a stronger relationship with other schools had better, and more growth in, mathematics achievement; (b) schools with reciprocal relationships had better, and more growth in, mathematics and reading achievement; and (c) schools connected to more influential schools in the network had better, and more growth in, mathematics and reading achievement.

In the second essay, I inquired into the relationship between teacher-to-teacher relationships and student achievement. By using the meta-analysis method, I specifically focused on (a) the relationship between teacher’s individual relationship with other teachers and student mathematics and reading achievement; (b) the relationship between teacher-to-teacher relationship at the organization level (i.e., school or grade team) and student mathematics and reading achievement; and (c) how three frequently used theoretical frameworks in studying teacher-to-teacher relationships—teacher network, teacher collaboration and professional learning community (PLC), at either individual or organizational level—were related to student mathematics and reading achievement. Key findings included (a) teachers’ individual relationships were not related to student achievement; (b) the relationships in schools or grade teams were significantly positively related to student mathematics and reading achievement; and (c) at the organizational level, different theoretical frameworks were not related to the level of student achievement, but did result in different levels of heterogeneity (i.e., heterogeneity was low for PLCs and teacher networks and was high for teach collaborations).

In the third essay, I conducted a meta-analysis study on the relationship between (a) principals’ network position in school-wide networks, measured by principals’ degree centrality, and (b) school leadership, trust and innovation climate. I found that principals’ network position had a strong positive relationship with leadership climate and a moderate relationship with trust and innovation climate, with low to moderate level of heterogeneity.

The findings in the three essays have implications for policy, practice, and research. From the perspectives of policy and practice, generally speaking social networks in education are associated with better outcomes, and should be promoted in the educational system. Social networks appear to be an important vehicle to improve outcomes in the context of the bifurcated educational system. Directions for future research were also discussed.

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