University of Leicester
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Learning, Becoming, Leading: The Experiences of International School Principals

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posted on 2018-01-17, 10:48 authored by Sarah Elizabeth Howling
In recent years there has been huge growth in the number of international schools, both worldwide and in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. International education may be an increasingly rich area for research, but leadership in international schools remains a relatively unexplored phenomenon. Our understanding of what constitutes successful educational leadership is derived mainly from national settings or comparative international research. This thesis shows that although there are similarities in experience the world over, leadership is deeply contextual. A core strand of this research is to identify and analyse the core leadership practices and styles of international school Principals in Kuala Lumpur and what knowledge and competencies they need to successfully lead. It explores how Principals develop their leadership, their self-concept and identity, including the interrelationships between the three key distinct but deeply interwoven concepts of learning, becoming and leading. The research adopts a qualitative, interpretivist epistemology and in order to generate answers to the research questions, I conducted twelve semi-structured interviews with international school Principals. The findings highlight two important and far-reaching themes that influence Principals’ experience in this context: impermanence and isolation. In addition to generic leadership strategies, Principals in this study navigate complex intercultural situations and acknowledge and embrace their role in creating a supportive community. They use a range of styles including learning-centred, transformational and distributed leadership, placing a very high value on relationships and demonstrating a significant ethic of care. They value reading, coaching, experience and reflection as means of learning, and also make use of social media, creating virtual communities of practice. Finally, a new model is presented to understand and analyse the dynamic and iterative interrelationships between learning, becoming and leading.



Venter, Katharine; Simms, Melanie

Date of award


Author affiliation

Centre for Labour Market Studies

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • DSocSci



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