Higher-degree research being undertaken by Pamela Ryan




Dr George Odhiambo and Dr Rachel Wilson

Thesis title:

Understanding and responding to destructive leadership in school-related contexts: An Autopoietic perspective



Project description

Leadership is integral to the health and wellbeing of individuals and organisations. Relevant literature typically assumes a conception of ethical influence for good purpose, yet it is not always so. When exercised destructively, leadership has the potential to cause personal distress, group dysfunction and cultural fracture. Although some theoretical literature discusses such leadership, there are few empirical studies. This study applies autopoietic theory in order to explore the existence and impact of destructive leadership in school-related contexts, as well as to suggest possible prevention and intervention strategies.

The research methodology used in the study is phenomenography, which seeks to understand a phenomenon by defining variation in collective experience. Interviews were undertaken with leaders in school-related settings who identified with having past experience of leadership practices they defined as destructive. The purposive sample population was cross-sectoral and cross school phase. The study is framed by three research questions that aim to identify the qualitatively different ways by which the phenomenon can be understood.

Ram Ryan works part-time at the University of Technology Sydney as Industry Professor (Learning and Education) on a project reimagining initial teacher education. She also provides consultancy on school education to a social research and innovation team at Incept Labs. With a background in educational leadership, from 2010-2014 Pam was Director of Education for a Hong Kong-based foundation of 21 international schools, prior to which she spent seven years as a School Education Director in the NSW Department of Education and ten years as Principal of Orange High School.


  • Ron Ikin Award for Leadership of Professional Learning, Australian College of Educators (2017)
  • University of Sydney Postgraduate Scholarship (2017)


  • Ryan, P. (2017). Action and reflection tools for busy school leaders. Australia: ACER.
  • Ryan, P. (2016). Wise heads, wise hearts: Conversations with Asia-Pacific school leaders. Camberwell Victoria: ACER Press.
  • Ryan, P. (2015). Leadership in education: Learning from experience. Ultimo, New South Wales: Halstead Press.