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Distributed leadership: building capacity for interdisciplinary climate change teaching at four universities

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-17, 22:12 authored by Aidan DavisonAidan Davison, Brown, P, Emma LittleEmma Little, Kristin WarrKristin Warr, McGregor, H, Terkes, S, Boyd, D, Abuodha, P

Purpose: Interdisciplinary approaches to climate change teaching are well justified and arise from the complexity of climate change challenges and the integrated problem-solving responses they demand. These approaches require academic teachers to collaborate across disciplines. Yet, the fragmentation typical of universities impedes collaborative teaching practice. This paper aims to report on the outcomes of a distributed leadership project in four Australian universities aimed at enhancing interdisciplinary climate change teaching.

Design/methodology/approach: Communities of teaching practice were established at four Australian universities with participants drawn from a wide range of disciplines. The establishment and operation of these communities relied on a distributed leadership methodology which facilitates acts of initiative, innovation, vision and courage through group interaction rather than through designated hierarchical roles.

Findings: Each community of practice found the distributed leadership approach overcame barriers to interdisciplinary climate change teaching. Cultivating distributed leadership enabled community members to engage in peer-led professional learning, collaborative curriculum and pedagogical development, and to facilitate wider institutional change. The detailed outcomes achieved by each community were tailored to their specific institutional context. They included the transformation of climate change curriculum, professional development in interdisciplinary pedagogy, innovation in student-led learning activities, and participation in institutional decision-making related to curriculum reform.

Originality/value: Collaborative, non-traditional leadership practices have attracted little attention in research about sustainability education in university curricula. This paper demonstrates that the distributed leadership model for sustainability education reported here is effective in building capacity for interdisciplinary climate change teaching within disciplines. The model is flexible enough for a variety of institutional settings.


Publication title

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education








School of Geography, Planning and Spatial Sciences


Emerald Group Publishing Ltd

Place of publication

United Kingdom

Rights statement

Copyright 2014 Emerald Group Publishing

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Expanding knowledge in human society

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