Education Industry

Individual vs. Organisational Thought Leadership in Schools

April 6, 2020

We've put out the call to our community for guest writers who are itching to share the latest ed-tech news. David Garden is a school marketer with 20+ years experience and an MBA (Marketing). David also has 20+ years experience at marriage and is blessed to raise two daughters with his wife. He is currently the Marketing Director for the Australian Christian College Group. You can connect with David on LinkedIn.

Over the past few years, ‘thought leadership’ has become a major focus for marketers around the world. Incorporating thought leadership tactics into your overall marketing plan is an effective long-term strategy for marketing intangible services such as education. 

Thought leadership is where a person or organisation is recognised for their expertise in a relevant field. This expertise is typically shared in academic settings, through the media, at conferences, on social platforms, and in written form. 

Thought leadership generally takes two main forms:

  1. Individual thought leadership
  2. Organisational thought leadership.

Let’s take a look at each one through the lens of a school marketer.


Individual thought leadership

Individual thought leadership is where a person holds the recognised expertise themselves. In a school context, it is typically the Principal or Head who acts as the thought leader. When the Principal leaves the school, their expertise follows, however, the school has gained the benefit of their intellectual reputation during their tenure. 

Individuals gain recognised thought leadership status through:

  • their years of experience in education
  • the schools and institutions where their experience has been gained
  • the formal qualifications they hold
  • the authorship of notable publications
  • the industry visibility they command (perhaps by chairing an industry association)
  • by winning awards (such as the Australian School Principal of the Year).

An example that personifies an individual thought leader is Dr John Collier, Principal of St Andrews Cathedral School. Dr Collier has 45 years' teaching experience working in respected schools, completed a doctoral thesis on school leadership, has had his work published in countless books and journals, has been a chair of AHISA and board member of AISNSW, and was awarded a Principals Council Travelling Fellowship and a ‘Leading Teacher’ status.


Organisational thought leadership

Organisational thought leadership is where the organisation becomes known as the experts, collectively, on a particular topic. As such, most of the same tactics outlined for individuals apply to organisations with minor adjustments. An obvious example would be entering the award category ‘School of the Year’ instead of ‘Principal of the Year.’ 

With organisational thought leadership the expertise becomes synonymous with the organisation’s brand. Organisational thought leadership is best implemented by working it into your school’s culture. Being experts in the chosen field becomes part of ‘how we do things here’. 

It’s important to note that organisational thought leadership is more than simply fostering the expertise of several individual thought leaders within your school—though that is a helpful start. Organisational thought leadership requires that the school is committed to a particular focus, such as online learning for example, and that the school’s branding efforts align with this chosen focus.

For example, Australian Christian College in Albany is Western Australia’s largest non-government online distance education school. To drive an organisational thought leadership strategy, the School’s Principal formed a partnership with Murdoch University. Now a quarter of the teachers at this school are completing postgraduate research about online distance education.


Which form of thought leadership is most effective?

One form of thought leadership is not necessarily better than the other—both can achieve great outcomes for your school’s marketing efforts. Furthermore, you don’t have to choose one or the other, but rather pursue both approaches concurrently. Alternatively, you might decide to place more focus on one approach depending on your school’s stage of growth. For smaller schools, individual thought leadership makes more sense, because the Principal has a greater direct impact on enrolments. As the school grows, the Principal should work to disperse their expertise throughout the teaching team and build a school brand based on organisational thought leadership.


Have you ever wanted to write for the Digistorm blog? Guest posting is a great way to build your individual and organisational thought leadership, while gaining exposure for your school. If this sounds like something that would be up your alley, get in touch and send us a short pitch for your blog post idea — we'd love to hear from you!