Distributed system leadership: Student understanding and enactment of mission and values across United World Colleges

Arnett Michael EDWARDS

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Theses

Abstract

This study investigates how United World College (UWC) leadership affects students’ understanding and enactment of UWC’s mission and values. UWC is an international school group of 18 schools and colleges. The study takes a system leadership perspective to examine the influence of different system constituents.

The study is conducted within international schools and identifies four interrelated factors affecting this environment. These include globalisation, internationalisation, informatisation, and cross-centralisation. There is a lack of research on the leadership of international school systems.

This study adopted a qualitative methodology. This methodology allowed the researcher to construct meaning from different perspectives that students and the constituent leaders hold about the shape and purpose of the UWC mission and values and the role of leadership in developing students' understanding of them.

Data collection and analysis was informed by grounded theory methods. The study employed focus group interviews to collect student data and semi-structured interviews to collect data from adult leaders. In addition, a mixture of face-to-face and remote interviews were used, mainly for UWC external leaders. Finally, observational data were collected during visits to UWC campuses, and relevant documents were identified and collected.

The findings identified that distributed system leadership affected student understanding and enactment of the UWC mission and values. Within the UWC colleges, three primary actors directly influence students' understanding and enactment of the UWC mission: principals, other adult leaders, and students (peer to peer). Influence flowed mainly through articulating and role modelling UWC mission and values. Adult leaders, particularly school principals, also indirectly influence student understanding and enactment. They do this by creating structures and an environment to facilitate student understanding and enactment of mission and values.

External to the UWC colleges, three primary actors influence students' understanding and enactment of the UWC mission and values: UWC national committees, alumni, and the UWC International Office. National committees mainly influence student understanding and enactment through the student selection process, enabling students to develop an initial understanding of UWC. Alumni influence students by inspiring them to enact the UWC mission and values. The UWC International Office influences students principally through developing system-wide structures to support enactment.

By putting the student at the centre of the system, the study identified the different constituents and actors that influenced students within and outside the UWC colleges. The study, therefore, confirms how distributed system leadership can influence students with different constituents and actors, each playing an impactful role. This finding has implications for researchers of an educational system in how they frame their research on systems developing conceptual models with the student at the centre of the system.

This research has implications for researchers and practitioners, focusing on non-academic student outcomes. Principals directly influenced non-academic student outcomes through role modelling and articulating these outcomes. Students were also important influencers of nonacademic student outcomes through peer-to-peer role modelling and articulating of the UWC mission and values. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Keywords

  • Theses and Dissertations
  • Thesis (Ed.D.)--The Education University of Hong Kong, 2022.

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