In what ways and for what reasons do leaders of international schools deploy their leadership behaviours in response to the cultural context of staff with whom they work?

  • Darlene Fisher

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


The research into leadership in schools in different cultures and countries has provided evidence that leadership is practiced differently in different regions, as is shown in the literature review of this thesis, but there has been little attention to the question of how to lead in culturally diverse communities. The purpose of this research is to investigate if leaders use different leadership behaviours for different cultural groups within their staff. The research is focused on three areas of leadership behaviour: communication, building trust and collaboration, and decision-making.

The qualitative research methodology involved case studies of eight international school leaders, of schools providing one or more of the International Baccalaureate curriculum programmes (IB World Schools), in seven countries on four continents Europe, Asia, Africa and Americas. Each leader was interviewed with a focus on the three areas listed above. To triangulate data, representatives from leadership teams were then interviewed, school documents related to staff induction and school policies were reviewed, and leaders observed as they participated in group work. 21 interviews were conducted, multiple documents from schools were provided and observations of leaders taken. All records were uploaded to NVivo for data analysis. Each school leader was considered as one case study and findings were initially interpreted within that individual context. Following the completion of the individual case studies’ analysis, the findings were then compared across case studies, to consider any emerging themes.

The research provides evidence that some international school leaders do indeed deploy their behaviours differently with different cultural groups and sometimes differently between individuals. However, this is done to varying extents depending on the context and the area of action. The most common area of adaptation is found to be in the leaders’ style of communication, but methods of building trust and decision-making also showed evidence of adaptation. An additional finding was that leaders often treated a combined group of expatriate staff as one cultural group regardless of nationality while possibly treating individuals within that group differently.

A significant finding from all leaders was that none had received any training that supported the development of intercultural understanding or leadership of culturally diverse communities. Further research is needed in culturally diverse communities, to enhance understanding of the specific challenges involved, and to consider how best to prepare and support future leaders working in culturally diverse school communities, whether in national or international schools.
Date of Award19 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMary Hayden (Supervisor) & Jeff Thompson (Supervisor)


  • educational leadership
  • culture
  • Leadership and management
  • multicultural leadership

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