A Case Study of Educational Leadership Doctoral Students: Developing Culturally Competent School Leadership Through Study Abroad

Jayson W Richardson, Marsha Carr, Jeremy L. D. Watts
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 15  •  2020  •  pp. 541-558

This study focuses on how a short-term international study abroad program to England impacted doctoral students’ cultural competencies.

The case study captures the experiences of six school leadership doctoral students who traveled abroad to East London, England. The overarching goal of this experience was to improve their self-efficacy for culturally competent school leadership.

Through this case study of six doctoral students in an educational leadership doctoral program, the researchers sought to answer the following question: How do knowledge, attitudes, skills, and behaviors around cultural competencies of U.S. school leaders shift because they participated in an international internship? Through pre-post surveys and follow-up interviews, the researchers explored how the international experience impacted cultural competencies.

The primary goal of this experience was to improve self-efficacy for culturally responsive school leadership. The doctoral students were either aspiring school leaders or were currently serving as a building leader of a P-12 school. It is from these students that we can learn how a short-term international experience might impact school leaders, and in return, the students and staff they serve. This study adds to the limited literature about the benefits of study abroad programs for educational leadership students in doctoral programs.

The doctoral students in this case study gained knowledge and skills because of this study abroad. Knowledge was gained about educational systems and self-awareness. Skills learned included relationship skills, travel skills, and skills related to empowering teachers. Attitudes about diversity shifted to be more encompassing. Further, the behaviors of doctoral students changed because of this trip. The results from the pre-test and post-test on cultural competence indicated a significant improvement in cultural competence for the group.

The knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behavioral shifts captured in this study spoke to profound growth around cultural competencies. It is through preparing these doctoral students before the international sojourn, guiding them during the experience, and following up with them upon return that we were able to create a supportive, meaningful, and impactful study abroad experience for future school leaders. Thus, these experiences will likely impact their collective leadership in the future.

Though research about the benefits of study abroad programs for graduate students is limited, several studies are about the benefits of study abroad and international programs in undergraduate education. There is all but a lack of literature focused on doctoral educational leadership students and study abroad. Nevertheless, for many students who choose to study overseas, it may be the first opportunity they have to explore a new country and to be fully immersed in a culture that is different from their own. Through these experiences, many development opportunities can affect how students view their professional work.

Through exposure to others, by experiencing diverse ways of thinking and doing, and through critical conversation, institutions of higher education can develop school leaders to be culturally competent, culturally responsive, and socially just. As demonstrated in this study, international experiences are one decisive way to start this conversation.

Research has shown that it is possible to increase students’ cultural competence through study abroad. As such, in the current study, the researchers took a mixed methods approach to understand how cultural competencies around knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors shifted. As a result, we found that each doctoral student increased their cultural awareness in significant ways. Students gained knowledge by comparing the cultures within education systems and gained self-awareness about their own cultural awareness issues. More research needs to be done to better understand the impact of study abroad experiences on graduate students in educational leadership programs. These experiences could be short experiences (i.e., one to two weeks) or longer experiences (i.e., more than two weeks). Further, focusing on developing cultural competency before, during, and after a trip in different educational fields other than educational leadership (e.g., literacy, curriculum & instruction) could have significant school-level effects. Lastly, extending study abroad experiences into locations where English is not the first or primary language could provide opportunities for developing language skills while enhancing patience, cross-cultural communication, and problem-solving skills that could be beneficial personally and professionally.

leadership preparation, school leaders, cultural competency, culture, intercultural, study abroad, educational leadership
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