Credit points


Campus offering

No unit offerings are currently available for this unit



Unit rationale, description and aim

Educational communities exist within complex ecologies. Ecclesial, theological, philosophical, social, cultural, and political dynamics influence the localised contexts in which leaders serve.

This unit draws from integral theology, organisational ecology, and cultural theories to help leaders understand and apply their own wisdom to enhance the life and culture of their learning community. It draws from complex systems organisational theory, practical theology, and contemplative practice to equip students with conceptual and spiritual resources to understand and respond to their complex, and unique, professional context. Distributed, self-organising, multi-layered, networked, agile, and team-based leadership models and modalities are explored.

This unit aims to equip students to make sense of their organisational complexity. They develop practical skills in redesigning and empowering cultures where complexity can be harnessed for innovation, improvement, and positive community relationships.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - analysis of contemporary organisational theories (GA1, GA5, GA8); APST 2.4, 6.2 (Lead); APSP 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

LO2 - use this analysis to critique their personal practice as educational leaders (GA1, GA3, GA4, GA8, GA9; APST 6.3, 7.1 (Lead); APSP 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

LO3 - integrate frameworks of spiritual, relational, and ethical leadership in their leadership practice (GA1, GA3, GA4, GA8; APST 6.2, 7.1 (Lead); APSP 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


On successful completion of this unit, students should have gained evidence towards the following standards:

2.4  Understand and respect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to promote reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians

Lead initiatives to assist colleagues with opportunities for students to develop understanding of and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and languages.

6.2  Engage in professional learning and improve practice

Initiate collaborative relationships to expand professional learning opportunities, engage in research, and provide quality opportunities and placements for pre-service teachers.

6.3  Engage with colleagues and improve practice

Initiate collaborative relationships to expand professional learning opportunities, engage in research, and provide quality opportunities and placements for pre-service teachers

7.1  Meet professional ethics and responsibilities

Model exemplary ethical behaviour and exercise informed judgements in all professional dealings with students, colleagues and the community.


In addition to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers this unit addresses the following Professional Practices:

APSP 1 - Leading teaching and learning

Principals create a positive culture of challenge and support, enabling effective teaching that promotes enthusiastic, independent learners, committed to lifelong learning. Principals have a key responsibility for developing a culture of effective teaching, for leading, designing and managing the quality of teaching and learning and for students’ achievement in all aspects of their development. They set high expectations for the whole school through careful collaborative planning, monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of learning. Principals set high standards of behaviour and attendance, encouraging active engagement and a strong student voice.

APSP 2 - Developing self and others

Principals work with and through others to build a professional learning community that is focused on continuous improvement of teaching and learning. Through managing performance, effective continuing professional learning and feedback, they support all staff to achieve high standards and develop their leadership capacity. Principals support others to build capacity and treat people fairly and with respect. They model effective leadership and are committed to their own ongoing professional development and personal health and wellbeing in order to manage the complexity of the role and the range of learning capabilities and actions required of the role.

APSP 3 - Leading improvement, innovation and change

Principals work with others to produce and implement clear, evidence-based improvement plans and policies for the development of the school and its facilities. They recognise that a crucial part of the role is to lead and manage innovation and change to ensure the vision and strategic plan is put into action across the school and that its goals and intentions are realised.

APSP 4 - Leading the management of the school

Principals use a range of data management methods and technologies to ensure that the school’s resources and staff are efficiently organised and managed to provide an effective and safe learning environment as well as value for money. This includes appropriate delegation of tasks to members of the staff and the monitoring of accountabilities. Principals ensure these accountabilities are met. They seek to build a successful school through effective collaboration with school boards, governing bodies, parents and others. They use a range of technologies effectively and efficiently to manage the school.

APSP 5 - Engaging and working with the community

Principals embrace inclusion and help build a culture of high expectations that takes account of the richness and diversity of the wider school community and the education systems and sectors. They develop and maintain positive partnerships with students, families and carers and all those associated with the wider school community. They create an ethos of respect taking account of the spiritual, moral, social and physical health and wellbeing of students. They promote sound lifelong learning from preschool through to adult life. They recognise the multicultural nature of Australia’s people. They foster understanding and reconciliation with Indigenous cultures. They recognise and use the rich and diverse linguistic and cultural resources in the school community. They recognise and support the needs of students, families and carers from communities facing complex challenges.


Topics will include:

  • Organisations as:
  • Closed systems
  • Open systems
  • Complex systems
  • Ecologies
  • Leading complex cultures, climates, and modalities
  • Models and theories for leading (self-organising, multi-layered, networked, agile)
  • Theologies of communal life
  • The school as
  • Organisation
  • Institution
  • Community
  • Family
  • Ecclesia
  • Mission
  • Transrelationality as leadership practice
  • Spiritual renewal and sustenance: Practices and priorities

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit may be offered in online and multimode and uses an interdisciplinary and reflective learning approach. Lectures and scholarly readings provide the knowledge base of complexity leadership theories for the unit, complemented by wider exposure to contemporary news reportage and social media (blogs, podcasts) on relevant topics. A range of leadership structures and modalities for leading through complexity are introduced. It then explores the value of personal spiritual practices for sustaining and renewing leaders. Students reflect on how their own journey of vocation, formation, and renewal contributes to the health of their educational community.

This is a 10-credit point unit and has been designed to ensure that the time needed to complete the required volume of learning to the requisite standard is approximately 150 hours in total across the teaching period, comprising directed tasks and self-study.

Assessment strategy and rationale

Learning in this unit draws from diverse disciplines to provide students with multiple perspectives through which to understand their educational community. The first assessment requires students to engage in critical analysis of diverse perspectives on leading complex educational communities, especially those with a Catholic or other faith-based mission. Assessment 2 focuses in more sharply on analysis of how leaders’ actions impact the culture within their community. Assessment 3 requires students to move beyond conceptual and analytical commentary to articulate their personal practice in light of their understanding gained from Assessments 1 and 2.

The assessment tasks and their weighting for this unit are mapped to demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes and the related academic and professional standards. In order to pass this unit, students are required to successfully complete all assessment tasks regardless of their mode of enrolment.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Assessment Task 1

Critical review of contemporary theories of organisational leadership



GA5, GA8

Assessment Task 2

Select and justify a range of strategies that are effective for building strong school cultures and ecologies


LO1, LO2

GA1, GA3, GA4, GA8, GA9

Assessment Task 3

Evaluate the contribution of your personal educational leadership practices to the ecological health of a school community/or system


LO2, LO3

GA1, GA3, GA4, GA8, GA9

Representative texts and references

Branson, C.M., & Marra, M. (2021). A new theory of organizational ecology, and its implications for educational leadership. Bloomsbury.

Cattaro, G. (2021). Compact on global education: Leading toward the common good. Educatio Catholica, 3-4, 41-51.

Duignan, P. (2020). Leading educational systems and schools in times of disruption and exponential change. Emerald Publishing House.

Hawkins, M., & James, C. (2018). Developing a perspective on schools as complex, evolving, loosely linking systems. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 46(5), 729–748.

Kok, J., & van den Heuval (Eds.). (2019). Leading in a VUCA world: Integrating leadership, discernment and spirituality. Springer.

Madden, R. (2020). Dialogue in community: conditions and enablers for teacher professional development in Catholic schools. Journal of Religious Education, 68, 125–139.

Rohr, R. (2020). Wisdom pattern: Order, disorder, reorder. Franciscan Media.

Uhl-Bien, M., Piccolo, R., & Schemerhorn, J. (2020). Organizational behavior (2nd ed.). Wiley.

Wheatley, M. (2017). Who do we choose to be? Facing reality, claiming leadership, restoring sanity. Random House.

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