Contributing beyond your organisation

Leaders bring their knowledge and experience of making improvements to local and national professional networks, as well as exploring opportunities to work with other educational organisations, local communities, government agencies and others to develop and improve educational provision and policy. They use such opportunities to learn from others, and to develop things that are collectively more than the sum of contributing parts, which others can draw from and use to improve educational practice.

Educational leadership capability framework, Education Council, 2018

The full title for this capability is: Contributing to the development and wellbeing of education beyond their organisation

This page summarises some thinking and research related to this capability. It is not a comprehensive or definitive background to the capability.

Systems leadership

Systems leadership occurs when leaders from different parts of a system work together on a common agenda and build lateral capacity.

Leaders who partner effectively laterally and vertically with others across a system see themselves as part of a bigger system, not just responsible for a school. (Rincón-Gallardo, 2017). They see the relationships between the classroom, school and system and understand that to change the larger system they have to engage with it. 

What is system leadership?

Perspectives of four leaders from the UK, Canada, NZ and Australia.

Video courtesy of Bastow Institute, Melbourne, Australia

    "At the beginning I thought, what’s in it for our own school, but now I believe we need to think about the greater moral purpose and supporting the needs of schools that support 6000+ learners. That’s what a community truly is." (Tony Grey, in Ministry of Education, 2018)

Attributes of system leaders

Robert Hill (2011, p13) says that the role of system leader puts a premium on being able to:

  • inspire, persuade and negotiate with peers
  • challenge the status quo
  • bring about change quickly and effectively.

He analysed the survey responses of people undertaking or interested in undertaking specific system leadership roles in the UK. The three attributes of system leaders they rated most highly across all the roles were:

  • leadership experience in a school
  • communication, presentation and interpersonal skills
  • strategic thinking ability (vision, big picture, etc).

Hill's report concluded that becoming a professional partner – mentoring or coaching others – provides a good entry into system leadership (p18).

    "Systems leaders develop the ability to see reality through the eyes of people very different from themselves." (Ehrlichman, 2015)

Clusters and networks 

Clusters and networks are important ways of exercising system leadership. To be effective, all the leaders participating in a cluster or network need to:

  • be there because they want to be
  • be committed and willing to share 
  • sanction, champion and support cluster / network goals
  • believe they have something to offer others and something to gain from others
  • build relationships of trust
  • understand they won't benefit from everything.

Social network research also suggests that effective networks need more than one challenger in them, and they need to enable strong teacher collaboration, as the strength of a network is related to the number of cross-school connections (McKibben, 2014).

Leading a cluster or a network of schools has more complexities than leading a school or a team, due to the individual contexts, constraints and priorities of the schools in the network. You need to forge a common purpose; you’ve got to find the need that will get people working together (McKibben, 2014).

Verity Harlick and Megan Odgers – small schools working together


    Collaboration can help address some of the specific issues rural schools face, and may raise standards and performance. (Mujis, 2015)

Reflective questions

  • What are the successful and less successful behaviours in networks? How can you influence them?
  • Building in learning about effective networks can build participants' trust as well as their skills. What strategies can you use to do this?

Related pages

Systemic change and equity – article

West Auckland principals collaborate

Tū Rangatira: Māori-medium educational leadership

This capability features strongly in two whenu (key roles of leadership):

  • He kaikōtuitui – the networker
  • He kaiarataki– the advocate 

Tū rangatira (English)

Tū rangatira (te reo Māori)


Hill, R. (2011). The importance of teaching and the role of system leadership. National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's services. 

McKibben, S. (2014). Leading lateral learning:Learning and Change Networks and the social side of school reform. Fulbright. Accessed from

Ministry of Education. (2018). He Pitopito kōrero: Ministry bulletin for school principals, 27 August.

Mujis, D. (2015). Collaboration and networking among rural schools: Can it work and when? Evidence from England. Accessed from ResearchGate.

Rincón-Gallardo, S. & Fullan, M. (2017). Essential features of effective networks in education. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 1:1, 5-22.

Image credit: Federico Beccari on Unsplash

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