This publication highlights mini-case studies that exemplify educational leadership in action. Inside, you will find an overview of several models of educational leadership in higher education, with a particular focus on the Five-Pillar Model, a set of 21 mini-case studies, and an analysis and discussion of the mini-case studies, including their impact and contributions to the scholarship of leading.

This project stems from the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) Special Interest Group (SIG) on the Scholarship of Leading. Committed to pursuing scholarly work on the relationships between leading, teaching and learning, this special interest group’s mission is to create opportunities for dialogue, promote scholarly research on the topic, and provide support to ISSoTL members interested in and/or engaged in leadership. In 2017, the authors (Rolheiser & Carbone) surveyed the SIG on participant goals for the SIG and personal definitions for the Scholarship of Leading and Educational Leadership. Respondents (n=47) to the question, How do you currently define the scholarship of leading?, gave answers coded into the following categories:

  1. About Research, Inquiry, Theory: Research involving methods and theories of leadership
  2. About Learners: Improving student learning experience through research
  3. About Leadership: Exploring the role of leadership, specifically in the higher education context
  4. About Mentoring and Support: Leading through mentorship of new instructors, change and development
  5. Models and Frameworks: Defining and articulating models and frameworks applicable to leadership in a higher education teaching and learning context

This publication is framed with an emphasis on points three and five: About Leadership and Models and Frameworks. At the 2017 ISSOTL Conference, SIG discussions centred around those two points as major areas of interest for participants. For example, two survey comments related to the two categories are:

  • Leadership e.g., “I conceptualize it within the broader sphere of teaching and learning, so scholarship exploring the role of leadership in higher education teaching and learning, as well as the development of leaders.”
  • Models and Frameworks e.g., “That there are scholarly frameworks for leadership/leading change – i.e. theoretical underpinnings; that there exist known strategies for leading change. In other words, I believe there is a body of relevant literature that informs us on this issue and that we do not have to do things from scratch, in isolation, outside the established literature. This means that the scholarship of leading is an approach to leadership that is well supported by literature of some kind, and that there is a way to systematically investigate and provide evidence regarding the outcomes of change management/leadership.”

Through this survey and other discussions, the authors recognized a need to foreground models of leadership to enable both conversations about educational leadership in higher education and to emphasize impact. The Five-Pillar Model, first encountered by the authors in a poster presentation by Kenney et al. at ISSOTL 2017 in Calgary, Alberta, offers one useful model for conceptualizing educational leadership. As readers will recognize through the mini-case studies provided in this publication, this model is proved helpful in thinking about practices at all levels of leadership. As well, the authors invited other models of leadership to frame the mini-cases, and we comment on the additional frames of reference that were used by the mini-case study authors.

The overall goal of this publication is to provide concrete examples that will spark discussions across a variety of stakeholder groups, including educational developers, senior leaders in higher education, faculty and staff. We anticipate that such discussions may surface additional mini-cases of educational leadership that can be shared more broadly, and spark actions that may build upon the range of ideas shared by the authors of the minicases. Our hope is that we continue to make educational leadership a more tangible concept through the review of aspecific examples that inspire us.


The mini-case studies included in this publication were solicited through the ISSOTL Scholarship of Leading SIG, the ISSOTL community more generally, and personal connections and invitations through the authors’ home institutions and broader networks. The mini-case study authors were invited to frame their work around the Five-Pillar Model (see Table 2, p. 9) if this model aligned with their work; however, we also encouraged contributors to utilize other models of educational leadership that they found effective. As is elaborated in the analysis, while faculty members and academic leaders frequently practice educational leadership, they may not always use conceptual frameworks for framing their work within a larger discourse of leadership. The Five-Pillar Model, and other models utilized by participants, are conceptual tools that allow us to see impact and leadership at multiple levels.


Defining Educational Leadership
Defining educational leadership is challenging. Depending on context, different paradigms and conceptualizations of leadership can be utilized. The collection of mini-case studies in this publication show educational leadership initiatives in action, demonstrating the myriad ways in which this concept can be conceived of and applied in a variety of contexts.

In their poster, A Developmental Framework for Teaching Expertise in Postsecondary Education, Kenny et al. (2017) describe educational leadership as a key facet of teaching expertise:

Educational leaders influence change and implement initiatives to strengthen teaching and learning practices, communities, and cultures (Keppell, O’Wyer, Lyon & Childs, 2020; Martensson & Roxa, 2016; STLHE, n.d.). They share their expertise to inspire and help others strengthen their teaching practices; implement strategic programs, initiatives and policies to improve teaching and student learning; advocate for positive change; and, lead institutions, faculties and committees to continuously improve postsecondary education (Creanor, 2014; Martensson & Roxa, 2016, STLHE, n.d., Taylor, 2005; UBC, n.d.; University of Calgary, n.d.). (p.4)

At the University of Toronto, Canada, the definition of educational leadership for the purposes of tenure and promotion is dependent on the context in which faculty members are teaching. Each division offers their own requirements and recommendations. For example, the University of Toronto Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), in their divisional Teaching Guidelines, describes leadership in teaching as:

  • developing new courses and/or reform of curricula
  • mentoring colleagues and students on teaching•coordinating programs, cohorts, options, or other program-level initiatives
  • creating and/or development of models of effective teaching
  • significant changes in policy related to teaching as a profession•technology or other advances in the delivery of education in a discipline or profession
  • offering advice and/or consultation on teaching to programs or organizations outside OISE
  • providing seminars, training, modules, programs, etc. on teaching to organizations outside OISE (p. 9)

At the Swinburne University of Technology, Australia, although there is no formal definition of educational leadership, it is expected that academics demonstrate educational leadership at each level in which they operate. A national framework developed in Australia by Chalmers, an Australian National Senior Teaching Fellow, based on the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) provides universities and their academic staff with a practical and flexible guide for clarifying what constitutes quality teaching, educational leadership and how it can be evidenced. The website contains indicative standards and examples for each academic level. For example, at the professional level, educational leadership could be defined as:

  • Leadership role and impact in curriculum design and review, planning and/or development at a (inter) national level
  • Leadership in mentoring and supporting colleagues in planning and designing learning activities and curriculum
  • Leadership in academic practice in the university, discipline or (inter)nationally
  • Successful leadership/ mentoring of individuals and/or teams leading to enhanced assessment, standards and moderation
  • Leads effective organisational policies and/or strategies for supporting students and developing engaging learning environments
  • Leadership in the development of curriculum/discipline within the relevant discipline at university and/or (inter)national level
  • Sustained leadership in initiatives involving students in pedagogically sound research programs/projects
  • Demonstrates further professional qualities such as proactive sustained leadership and contribution to the development of professional qualities at the university, sector/disciplinary and/or (inter)national

From the Literature
There are a number of ways that educational leadership has been framed and defined in the broader literature. In a 2017 paper, Carbone et al. point out that:

Some leadership theories from outside the higher education context that have been considered in regards to their potential in understanding [the nexus between leadership, learning, and teaching in higher education] include:

  • situational leadership (Grae, 1997; Vroom & Yetton, 1973),
  • charismatic leadership (Conger, 1989),
  • transformational leadership (Bass, 1998; Burns,1978) and
  • leader-member exchange (Brass, 1984; Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1998).

These theories tend to favour formal structures, relationships and characteristics of individual leaders that often prevail in private, corporate and public sector management. Leadership informed by such theories has been found to be not generally well suited to higher education because of the strong desire in higher education for collegiality, consultation and academic freedom (Bolden et al., 2009; Heinrich, 2013; Yielder & Codling, 2004). McMaster (2014) provides a higher education practitioner’s perspective of leadership which emphasises an inclusive approach through bringing in appropriate people from different parts of the organisation to reflect on their expertise, with the intent of improving teaching and learning practices (Carbone et al., 2017, p. 184).

Further to this discussion, Susan Lieff and Francis Yammarino write in a 2017 article:

Given changing environmental demands and the complexity of organizational work, leadership scholarship has moved beyond the designer (or hierarchical) and heroic leaders. The importance of individual authenticity and self-leadership, as well as leadership that is conceptualized as a changing, social, collective process involving many (in the shared and network leadership approaches), is now recognized. These paradigms are not mutually exclusive; they have elements that overlap or that can be combined, and they are increasingly described in the most current leadership literature as the leadership approaches for success and effectiveness in the 21st century. (p. 615)

Lieff and Yammarino’s article (2017) builds on the importance of specific leadership qualities identified in the 5-Pillar Model while also providing a broader overview of what they identify as a “paradigm shift in the leadership field” (p. 615), as similarly pointed to by Carbone et al. and summarized in Table 1a and 1b (p. 7).

Scholarship of Leading: Current Paradigms (Table 1a)

ComponentDesigner (or hierarchical)Military (Hero)Transformational (Hero)
Focus of practiceIndividualIndividualIndividual
Leader's roleFormalFormal (usually)Formal
Leader's function is to...° Design work structures and processes
° Divide and coordinate responsibilities and accountabilities
Command and control° Inspire
° Get buy-in
° Support and encourage
Faculty members' role is to...Be a human resource (e.g., a cog in a machine)FollowBuy into the vision
GoalDeliver specific, desired outputsWin or surviveEffect a desired, specific change
Utility° Stable environments
° Simple or repetitive work
Urgent or crisis situationsRequired or compelling change
Limitations° Not easily adaptable to new demands
° Faculty do not want to be treated like resources
° Leader may be experienced as a task master
° Fosters passivity and dependence in faculty and competition among colleagues
° Idealization of leader is not suitable
° Promotes self-protective culture
° Faculty do not want to be sold a vision
° Does not engage faculty to contribute
Lieff & Yammarino, 2017, p. 615


Formal or informalFormal or informalFormal or informalFormal or informal
° Demonstrate behaviors that generate trust and respect
° Demonstrate a values-based approach
Be self-aware, self-reflect, exercise self-control, and self-manage Be a facilitator, empowering others whenever possiblePerceive, use, enable and manage formal and informal networks
Provide perspectives and feedbackProvide feedbackAssume some leadership responsibilitiesBuild and leverage network relationships
Generate trust, commitment and productivityEnhanced leadership behavior and performance° Empower others to lead when possible
° Leverage diverse capabilities
Address shared and emergent issues
Stressful or uncertain environments° Enhanced interactions
° Role modeling
° Broad ownership of activities
° Enhancing leadership capacity
Big, complex, and novel problems that require creative solutions
° Can be used as an excuse for not managing qualities that lead to bad behavior
° Ineffective if leader’s values are not shared by others in the context
° Self-assessment and feedback can be inaccurate
° Must be used as a foundation for other leadership approaches
° Takes more time to make decisions and changes
° There can be conflict between the single leader and team structures
Not available (this field is still in its infancy)
Lieff & Yammarino, 2017, p. 615


Broadly, leadership in higher education is moving towards models that focus on building capacity, as well as shared and distributed leadership. In A User Guide for Benchmarking Distributed Leadership (2013), Jones, Harvey, Lefoe, Hadgraft and Ryland write, “Distributed leadership recognises collaborative relationships as the source of, and support for, flexibility for change, particular in learning and teaching.” (p. 2)

In that user guide, the authors identify several benchmarks for distributed leadership in order to evaluate current practices at Australian institutions. Despite this institution-level lens, some of the benchmark domains outlined by the authors are also helpful in identifying the locus of personal leadership practices and initiatives. The authors’ five domains are as follows:

  1. Engage: The domain of engage covers aspects of distributed leadership related to the degree and breadth of involvement of individuals. This benchmark includes measurement of the extent of engagement of leaders with institutional responsibility, informal leaders and discipline and functional experts.
  2. Enable: The domain of enable covers the aspects of distributed leadership that address the need for a context of trust and a culture of respect that acknowledges the expertise that individuals can contribute. This benchmark includes the extent to which there is acceptance of the need for change from the traditional reliance upon positional managerial hierarchies to more collaborative approaches to developing relationships.
  3. Enact: The domain of enact covers the aspects of distributed leadership that requires a more holistic process. This benchmark includes the extent to which people, the processes, support and systems are implemented to encourage a distributed leadership approach.
  4. Assess: The domain of assess covers the area of distributed leadership concerned with identifying evidence of the contribution of distributed leadership to leadership capacity building. This benchmark includes evaluating cross correlations between distributed leadership and increased engagement in learning and teaching, collaboration and growth in leadership capacity.
  5. Emergent: The domain of emergent covers the area of distributed leadership concerned with sustaining distributed leadership over time through action research cycles. This benchmark includes evidence of a participative action research process, reflective practice and continuous improvement.

Jones, Harvey, Lefoe, Hadgraft & Ryland, 2013, p. 4

As part of our mini-case study analysis that follows, we use the Engage domain from Jones, Harvey, Lefoe, Hadgraft and Ryland (2013) to look at the roles of those individuals who are active participants in the mini-case studies, as well as the reach of the initiatives highlighted in the mini-cases.

A way of conceptualizing the impact of educational leadership is through what is known as the 4-M Framework (Simmons & Taylor, 2019), as outlined in Figure 1. In this framework, Micro refers to the individual level of activity and influence (perhaps in a course or through student mentorship), Meso to leadership at the departmental and divisional level, Macro to the institutional level, and Mega to disciplinary and interdisciplinary communities beyond the institution, typically at national and international levels (Simmons & Taylor, 2019). Shaping the leadership impact is the extent to which the work of educational leaders is communicated, appreciated, discussed, critically assessed, recognized, and integrated in the community.

4 levels are Mega, Macro, Meso and Micro

Figure 1. 4-M Framework of educational leadership (Simmons & Taylor, 2019)


In our analysis of the mini-cases presented in this publication, we look at the intended level of impact of the leadership initiatives, although many mini-cases describe impact that resonates past the level from which they first conceptualized their initiative.

As foregrounded earlier, one effective model for thinking about educational leadership on an individual level is through the Five-Pillar Model, developed at the University of Calgary. Based on emergent themes from interviews with individuals identified as educational leaders in higher education through their participation in an academic development program focused on educational leadership, this framework lays out characteristics of effective educational leaders. The first mini-case study in our set of 21 unpacks the initiative that led to the development of their leadership model presented in Table 2.

Scholarship of Leading: Five-Year Pillar Model (Table 2)

Educational Leadership
Affective Qualities
° Demonstrating humility
° Showing respect and empathy
° Establishing trust
° Facilitating relationship-building
Action Orientation
° Effective change
° Taking risks
° Facilitating long-term transformation
° Creating & implementing new teaching & learning projects
Mentoring & Empowering
° Helping colleagues strengthen their teaching & learning practices
° Mentoring & coaching colleagues
° Sharing resources
° Building capacity for growth
° Sharing insights & advice
° Bringing colleagues together
Teaching Excellence
° Facilitating student learning
° Enabling and empowering students
° Inspiring and building learners’ confidence
° Eliminating barriers to learning
° Being exemplary teachers
° Effectively communicating and collaborating with students
° Improving student learning experiences
Research & Scholarship
° Engaging in research
° Applying & disseminating scholarship in teaching and learning
Fields, Kenny, & Mueller, 2019, p.8


In the analysis that follows, we demonstrate how many of the mini-case authors found this model effective, as it allowed them to see their own work as part of a spectrum of educational leadership practices. Many of the mini-cases also move from a focus on individual leadership to distributed or shared models – in these instances the Five-Pillar Model reflects the nuance of this leadership across multiple individuals and, in some mini-cases, institutions.