What is an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership Degree?

  (Updated June 21, 2022)
Dr. Jeff Keeling
Dr. Jeff Keeling
High school principal; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership
A man stands smiling in his doctorate cap and gown.

The doctorate in educational leadership is the terminal degree available within the field of education. First originated at Harvard University in the 1920s, the Ed.D. provides an opportunity for current educators and administrators to pursue a doctoral degree that is more focused on the practices of education as opposed to the Ph.D. in Education.

This focuses more on conducting research surrounding education-related topics. With that said, the Ed.D. includes a substantial research component; however, this is secondary to understanding pedagogy and school leadership principles. This degree is offered in multiple formats: educational leadership doctoral programs online, in-person educational leadership doctoral programs, and hybrid.

How has COVID Impacted Educational Leadership? 

As the case has been across numerous professional fields, the educational leadership profession has been impacted significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Educational leaders such as school district superintendents and principals have had to become highly flexible in their planning processes to accommodate fully online and hybrid learning environments through the use of online instructional platforms. Additionally, generally mundane procedures such as student attendance monitoring and transportation have required significant modifications throughout the pandemic.

As a result, many of the tried and true practices of school operations were revised to provide the best possible protection from COVID-19, including mandatory temperature screenings for all students and staff members, social distancing in classrooms, common areas, and school buses, as well as contact tracing when a student or staff member received a positive COVID-19 virus diagnosis.

As the pandemic has run its course, schools in the United States have begun to resemble their pre-pandemic state. Despite the reduced threat of COVID-19, specific procedures will remain different from what they were before the pandemic. If anything, the pandemic emphasized the need for educational leaders to have as much preparation as possible to be well-informed and flexible in the face of unknown and challenging circumstances.

What does a Doctoral Educational Leadership Program Focus on?

An Ed.D. educational leadership degree program focuses on a variety of topics, including but not limited to:

By studying these and other relevant subjects, practicing educational leaders can improve their decision-making abilities related to curriculum and school-related legal issues in addition to becoming better-qualified leaders.

An added benefit is the ability to understand and interpret student performance data, relevant academic research studies, and the necessary skills to conduct research and analysis. Ultimately, the focus areas of the doctoral educational leadership program produce school administrators and faculty leaders who are the best prepared for the challenges of today’s educational climate.

Important Skills Obtained in Ed.D. Educational Leadership Programs

Understanding Interpersonal Relationships

A significant skill obtained through completing an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership degree is the ability to better understand interpersonal relationships. Educational leaders spend a substantial portion of their time interacting with the public, school board, parents, students, and many other school stakeholders.

Building relationships compounded with conflict resolution skills (another leadership principle), enables educational leaders to navigate the sometimes-challenging political waters inherent with public service roles.

Curriculum Design and Implementation

Another essential skill is developing a solid understanding of curriculum design and implementation. School administrators function as the instructional leaders of their institutions in addition to being the managers of daily operations.

Therefore, an ability to understand instructional best practices and a thorough understanding of applicable laws, especially those surrounding students with special needs, allow educational leaders to make curricular and programmatic decisions that reflect sound pedagogical practices and remain in compliance with applicable laws.

Research and Analytical Skills

Although the skills obtained through an Ed.D. program are numerous, the final two included in this discussion are research and analytical skills. Educational leaders often are bombarded with offers from sales representatives offering new curricular programs and textbooks that are promoted as the, “answer to the world’s educational problems.”

A solid ability to review the research surrounding programming options allows educational leaders to analyze the effectiveness of such curricula from an informed perspective. Additionally, the ability to conduct research enables school leaders to test the effectiveness of academic and behavioral programs in a statistically defensible manner, should their programmatic decisions be questioned.


Perhaps the most daunting aspect to those considering enrollment in a doctoral program, the dissertation represents the capstone achievement in an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership program.

The dissertation is the most critical step in the process. It provides a synthesis of all prior courses and components of the degree program. A traditional dissertation involves the development of an original research topic through identifying a relevant problem or trend in education followed by an exhaustive review of all relevant scholarly literature crowned by a research study that tests the hypothesis proposed by the doctoral candidate.

In this manner, the dissertation not only provides candidates with increased knowledge within a particular area but also tests their interpersonal and conflict resolution skills as they work with a dissertation committee and other consultants to produce a defensible product. Beyond these skills, the dissertation is a true test of the candidate’s commitment to completing the Ed.D.

Many doctoral candidates do not finish their dissertations, resulting in being classified as ABD (All But Dissertation.) It is highly recommended that those wishing to pursue an Ed.D. commit to completing their dissertation within their institution’s provided time frame (usually a maximum of seven years following coursework completion), as the ABD designation is undesirable from a professional perspective.

Career Advancement

An Ed.D. in Educational Leadership degree allows current educational leaders to qualify for higher positions in their field, such as:

Additionally, completing a terminal degree paves the way for educational leaders to teach at the collegiate level as professors ranging from adjunct to full professor.

Although the focus of the Ed.D. naturally is the field of education, other professional organizations and businesses benefit from hiring individuals who have attained the degree because the majority of the skills obtained within the degree program are universal within the areas of leadership, management, and interpersonal skills.

Ultimately, earning an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership degree makes an individual more marketable as it is a tangible artifact of their commitment and ability to see challenging tasks through to completion. This trait is highly desired not only within the field of education but across all career pathways.

Explore our available doctorate in educational leadership programs and enroll today!

*Updated June 2022
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