This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

A Study of Complex Leadership Theory in a Title One Middle School During the CoVID-19 Outbreak of 2020




Parker, Elizabeth

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation


Education Foundation, Leadership, and Technology


The COVID-19 pandemic caused worldwide disruption, including the closure of public schools in the United States. This dissertation introduces a conceptual framework of complex leadership, based on complexity leadership theory, to understand the decision-making process of traditional leadership positions. The framework identifies five leadership functions: generative, administrative, community building, information gathering, and information using. These functions interact within a closed complex adaptive system, facilitating emergence, self-organization, and adaptation. Applying this framework to education during the pandemic, the study reveals that the education system operates as a complex adaptive system, with leadership events occurring in a chaotic environment. The closure of schools and the shift to virtual learning created uncertainty and disagreements among stakeholders, exacerbated by internet access issues and insufficient training. The formation of groups, called aggregates, was influenced by shared experiences and connections. High staff turnover and organizational issues hindered the formation of strong relationships among teachers. The study finds that the GMS school operated in a state of chaos during the pandemic. Aggregates formed to address challenges and find solutions. The study examines the administrative, generative, and community building functions of complex leadership and highlights the importance of building meaningful relationships, balancing generative and administrative functions, and supporting communication. The study concludes that complex leadership theory is applicable to chaotic educational environments during the pandemic. It suggests further research to intentionally implement the theory and explore relationships and emergent leadership events in other educational contexts. Additionally, the formation of aggregates and their response to the administrative function should be studied from an insider's perspective.