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Independent School Leadership (M.Ed.)

Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations

Program Overview

Unlock your potential as an innovator and leader. Explore and master the skills needed to effectively lead an independent school community with a master’s degree in Independent School Leadership from Vanderbilt University.

You’ll partner with current and aspiring independent school leaders who bring an incredible depth of experience and expertise. Together, you’ll work to navigate the complex educational, political, social, fiscal, and moral dimensions that independent schools face today.

In the end, you’ll be prepared to reach higher levels of achievement for your career and the independent schools you seek to serve.

Most of the coursework in this 15-month program is completed over the course of two summers in Nashville, allowing you to maintain your current employment. Online coursework over the traditional academic year bridges the two consecutive summer sessions.

Throughout the 15 months, you’ll have access to experts in the field and will be advised by a board of outstanding independent school leaders who assist faculty in approving, evaluating, and providing feedback on research and fieldwork products.

Program at a Glance

Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Independent School Leadership

Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations

Admissions Coordinator: Rosie Moody
Admission Term: Summer
Credit Hours: 30
Priority Application Deadline: January 15*

* We will continue to accept applications after this date, but applications will be evaluated for admission and scholarships on a space-and-funds-available basis.

Our Commitment

Our Commitment to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

The ISL program purposefully addresses issues of access, equity, diversity and inclusivity within independent schools. We accomplish this within the curriculum by incorporating modules that focus on topics such as intercultural competence, implicit bias, trauma-informed education, women in leadership, inclusive initiatives, and supporting the social and emotional wellness of LGBTQI+ students.

Selected Courses Related to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

ISL 7250: Leadership and the Learning Spectrum - Independent schools admit students with a wide array of intellectual and social capacities that represent a full spectrum of racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity. This course provides students with an overview of what is known from the research literature about best meeting the needs of individual students across a full spectrum of capacities and characteristics.

ISL 7230: Educating the Whole Child - Building a thriving organization involves the careful creation of structures, cultures, processes, and support systems that enable people (students, faculty, staff, etc.) to perform at their very best. In this course, we will focus on several cultural and extracurricular facets of school operation and explore leadership implications of this work within the context of independent schools.

Selected Faculty Research Related to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion:

Catherine Loss, associate professor of the practice
Professor Loss specializes in the history of American education and twentieth-century education policy and reform.

Matthew Shaw, assistant professor of public policy and education
Professor Shaw is a sociologist of law whose research focuses on educational institutions and the students, educators, and communities who engage with them. His current projects are on laws which shape the experiences of undocumented youth as they transition from high school to college, Title IX as directive on educational institutions, and funding challenges experienced by historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Showcase Item: This past summer, the returning cohort of ISL students organized a “25-day Challenge” and shared specific, actionable ways we as a cohort could do something in support of social and racial justice in ways that were aligned with our course content each day of our summer session. We dedicated time at the conclusion of each day of class to share the daily ‘challenge’ and commit to taking action. The repository of resources we curated can be found here.

Program Curriculum

The 30-credit hour master’s degree program includes two intensive summer sessions in Nashville that bookend a fall and spring semester of online work. It’s an approach that blends school-based research and practice throughout.

During your summers in Nashville, you’ll collaborate with independent school leaders from around the country as you complete coursework and gain hands-on experience with area independent schools. During the school year, you’ll continue to build your proficiency by completing exercises aligned with the content covered over the summer sessions.

The curriculum for the Independent School Leadership master’s program aims to address the full breadth of topics essential for leading an independent school. You must pass a comprehensive exam at the end of the second semester.

The specific schedule of coursework follows:

Summer: Year 1

Required Courses: 12 credit hours

  • ISL 6110 Leadership and Learning in Independent Schools
  • ISL 6120 Admissions and Financial Aid in Independent Schools
  • ISL 6130 Finance, Governance, and Organization
  • ISL 6140 Institutional Advancement in Independent Schools
  • ISL 6150 Systematic Inquiry in Independent Schools

Fall and Spring: Year 1

Required Courses: 6 credit hours

  • ISL 6940 Site-based Action Research in Independent Schools

Summer: Year 2

Required Courses: 12 credit hours

  • ISL 7210 Historical, Fiscal, and Legal Dimensions of Independent Schools
  • ISL 7220 Organizational and Human Capital Development
  • ISL 7230 Educating the Whole Child
  • ISL 7240 Innovations and Learning
  • ISL 7250 Leadership and Learning Spectrum
Program Curriculum


World-class specialists from across the university and renowned expert-practitioners from the independent school community have collaborated to create this leading-edge program. It draws on decades of leadership development, research, and practice to present professional education at its best.

Session 1

Kimberly Bess
  • Associate Professor of the Practice, Department of Human and Organizational Development
Doug Christiansen
  • Associate Professor of Public Policy and Higher Education (Secondary Appointment), Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations
  • Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid.
  • Vice Provost for University Enrollment Affairs.
Xiu Cravens
  • Associate Dean for International Students and Affairs, Office of the Dean
  • Associate Professor of the Practice, Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations
William Doyle
  • Professor of Public Policy and Higher Education, Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations
Heather Johnson
  • Associate Professor of the Practice of Science Education, Department of Teaching and Learning
  • Director of Secondary Education, Department of Teaching and Learning
Catherine Gavin Loss
  • Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professional Education, Office of the Dean
  • Associate Professor of the Practice, Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations
Kristen W. Neal
  • Senior Lecturer; Director of Learning and Design M.Ed. Program, Department of Teaching and Learning
Tim Caboni
  • President, Western Kentucky University
Eric Houck
  • Associate Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy, School of Education at the University of North Carolina
Melanie Moran
  • Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations, Vanderbilt University
Bill Mott, Ph.D.
  • Consultant, Author, Speaker
Quinton Walker, Ed.D.
  • Head of High School, University School of Nashville
Gail Williams
  • Associate Director, Community Engagement, Community, Neighborhood, and Government Relations, Vanderbilt University

Session 2