This thesis explores principal leadership in Australian schools offering International Baccalaureate (IB) programmes. Since its introduction to Australia in 1978, the IB has grown considerably and now occupies a sizable place in the Australian education landscape. Despite this growth, the impact of the IB on Australian principal leadership has been, to this point, unexplored. This research fills this gap through a mixed methods sequential exploratory investigation employing complexity leadership theory as an investigative framework.
A maximum variation purposive sampling strategy identified seven case schools across three Australian states for Phase One. Principals in the seven case schools participated in a series of semi-structured interviews (n1 = 7). Constructive grounded theory and thematic analysis techniques produced findings which are explored further through a survey questionnaire offered to the total population of 174 Australian IB principals (n2 = 50, RR 28.7%). The two data analyses are integrated to show that Australian IB principals inhabit cultures where leadership actions continually shift between resolving conflicting expectations and overcoming confusing experiences. These expectations and experiences perpetually reconfigure, requiring responsive leadership by principals in sense-making (coherence) and structuration (congruence).
This research finds that Australian IB principals hold philosophical and pedagogical views which align with the IB, but are not necessarily derived from their experience of, or attraction to, the IB. Rather, implementing IB programmes is a pragmatic strategy to realise principals’ pre-existing educational visions, mediated through the temporally manifest culture of their school. As an exploratory study, this thesis also identifies important topics for future research.