Reimagining, restructuring, and revitalising school leadership philosophy in Nepal: A critical auto/ethnographic case study

Author Identifiers

Shankar DHAKAL


Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Education

First Advisor

Andrew Jones

Second Advisor

Geoffrey Lummis


The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal is a multilingual, multicultural, and multiethnic country, with citizens speaking approximately 123 different languages and belonging to diverse ethnic and religious groups. With a population of over 29 million, ensuring equitable educational opportunities in schools has been a crucial principle positioned within long-standing and widespread disparities and inequalities in terms of access and achievement. While the new constitution of Nepal (2015) envisions all the schools serving the interests of its diverse communities, leadership practices appeared to have been culturally de-contextualised instead of understanding and adapting to local contexts. In perpetuating the legacy of traditional, authoritarian leadership practices and deeply seated disparities and inequalities in educational opportunities, many educators have failed to deal effectively with the desired goals for engagement, empowerment, and equity matters that are deemed crucial in managing the lived cultural experiences and realities of Nepal’s socio-cultural diversity. Therefore, leading schools by transforming leadership approaches into more context-specific, equitable, empowering, and participatory has been a raison d'etre for many principals and senior teachers working in Nepal's public and private high school systems. Nevertheless, how secondary school principals adapt, embracing transformative leadership approaches to ensure equity and inclusion within their cultural contexts, has not been adequately explored in Nepal. To address this situation, this research investigated the ways in which educational leadership approaches and philosophies can be transformed and restructured to deliver more equitable and context-specific outcomes in the diverse schooling systems of Nepal. In so doing, this study provides insights into the existing literature gap and discusses the future nexus of school leadership policy and practice on personal, cultural, and policy levels.

Using an auto/ethnographic multiple-case study methodology, this study captured the professional transformation and self-actualisation journeys of four educational leaders, including three community high school principals and the researcher as a former private high school principal. This approach was underpinned by the paradigm of critical constructivism. Interviews with the principals, along with the researcher’s autoethnographic narratives and critical self-reflexive contributions, were analysed using the grounded theory interpretive approach (Saldaña, 2016). Mezirow’s transformative learning (1997) framework facilitated the analytical process by critically examining the deeply embedded stereotypical assumptions and as-usual-attitudes towards leadership practices.

The case study findings employed multi-perspective meaning-making processes to cultivate a contextual sensitivity to the leadership philosophies and practices. Identifying endeavours to create more equitable educational environments capable of dealing with and eventually overcoming the deeply entrenched layers of discrimination, this study challenged existing leadership philosophies and provided alternatives. Professional transformation journeys of the principals revealed a need for a paradigm shift in educational leadership. This research offers new contextual knowledge that could transform thoughts, actions, and behaviours for transformative professional development, and concludes that principals in diverse schooling systems will benefit from embracing humility, empathy, and compassion to achieve better school outcomes. While this small, land-locked country in South Asia faces a range of challenges, this educational research makes its contribution by reimagining, restructuring, and revitalising leadership philosophies and practices that have the potential to benefit Nepal’s schooling communities.

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