Leadership In Collaborations: School District Governance In The Context of Leading Non-System Actors

  • Glenn Brand

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


Throughout the United States school districts are increasingly entering collaborative arrangements with outside providers to assist in the provision of products and services to meet the needs of the system. This approach mirrors those underway in other local public and private sectors of society that are pursuing collaborative arrangements as a means to supplement their work and aid in meeting their organizational needs. However, these structural arrangements lead to an alteration of the traditional hierarchical model of organizational management which typifies the ‘template’ within which these organizations have been structured. The entry of a provider from outside of the school system (referred to as a non-system actor within the present study) necessitates that leaders of these organizations not only lead the agency, staff and programs that they are directly responsible for but also these wider collaborative arrangements and the actors therein. Reference within the public administration literature to the leadership found in these organizational arrangements is frequently referred to as collaborative or network leadership. This thesis develops a set of findings using qualitative data gathered through individual semi-structured interviews with school district leaders in two U.S. public school districts. The primary aim of this enquiry was to investigate the nature of appropriate leadership and management practices as conceptualized by school district leaders operating within collaborative arrangements that engage non-system actors in the work of the district. The findings are structured into three main themes. The first theme addresses the rationale behind why district leaders decided to pursue collaborative arrangements. The study found that school district leaders pursue arrangements with non-system actors based upon the perception that the organization often needs to compensate for limitations of funding, personnel and expertise. The second theme provides an understanding of how these organizational arrangements may impact the work of the district leader. The findings establish insight into the fact that these forms of collaborative arrangements hold the potential to adversely impact district activity and the role that the district leader plays including contending with issues of control and accountability as well as the integration of the non-system actor into the organization. The third theme addresses how district leaders conceptualize the necessary and appropriate leadership and management practices in overseeing collaborative arrangements that include non-system actors. There were three broader sub-themes identified. First, preparation for entering an arrangement with a non-system actor included the need to establish legitimacy with existing staff, a clear and coherent rationale for the collaborative arrangement itself as well as the need to thoughtfully broker relationships between system and non-system actors. Second, leaders identified the need to establish the context of the organization as part of the arrangement which included articulating organizational values, goals and expectations including the clarification of routines and practices. The third and final sub-theme that emerged centered around the oversight of non-system actor activity which included developing systems of accountability, assessing and reviewing the goals for the arrangement and planning for sustainability. A secondary aim of the study was to analyze how relevant leadership theories and/or models can inform an understanding of the practices of leading and managing within collaborative organizational arrangements situated within public education. The literature review briefly explored elements of leadership models or theories which included Inter-Agency Collaborations across Organizational Boundaries, Public Network Management theory and Collaborative Leadership. Based upon the data collected through these case studies, the conceptualization of leading and managing non-system actors at the school district level shares a strong alignment with the elements, themes and aspects associated with these relevant leadership theories advanced in the public administration literature. The findings herein suggest that there is a “through-line” within these practices that relates to the dominant needs of the organization centering around not so much the physical management of the arrangement but rather the leadership of the people including both system and non-system actors. Consequently, it was found that the application of these relevant theories can serve as viable frameworks in order to further analyze the activity associated with these forms of leadership.The thesis contributes to the field of leadership within public sector settings including public education. Educational researches interested in examining school and district leadership can use the results of this study, along with leadership models and frameworks found in the public administration field, to further explore leading and managing non-system actors engaged in formal collaborations within both the public sector but more particularly within school districts.
Date of Award20 May 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorChris James (Supervisor) & Michael Fertig (Supervisor)

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