Differing Interpretations of Janusz Korczak’s Legacy in Schools that take Inspiration from His Work: A Study in Four Schools in the UK and Canada


  • James Underwood University of Northampton, United Kingdom
  • Hien Quyen Van University of Northampton, United Kingdom
  • Ying Zhao Glocal Education Ltd, China




Janusz Korczak, school leadership, power distance, student voice


The purpose of this paper is to present how a selection of current school leaders in two countries, other than Poland, the country in which he lived, perceive the legacy of Janusz Korczak. These two countries are the United Kingdom and Canada. Its role is to present these interpretations for debate and discussion among other school leaders and practitioners, who claim inspiration from him worldwide. We have not suggested that there is a correct or incorrect way to interpret Korczak, rather we are simply interested in how current practitioners perceive his work. The first part of this article is a brief summary of key aspects from the life and works of Janusz Korczak that have entered educational conversation within the United Kingdom and the wider Anglophone world. This has often been through writings by and for teachers or books written for schools, rather than academic texts or even Korczak’s original works. Key aspects of his life story presented here are: those years leading the orphanage ‘Dom Sierot’, and most especially the final months of his life in the Warsaw ghetto, and the last recorded events of his life, including his refusal to go to Theresienstadt and his ultimate death in Treblinka. We also present in this section, because of an expectation that schools may have engaged with these, his views on how societal structures being designed by adults disadvantage children; and his valuing of children’s voices, as well as his views on the problematic nature of authority. This paper is a discussion of four linked case studies. Participants for this study were four school leaders, two from the UK and two from Canada. The schools they lead are schools that in public facing aspects of their schools, such as school webpages or public vision statements, refer explicitly to the influence of Janusz Korczak. The method of data collection used within this study was unstructured interviews with school leaders. Through this process we discovered that there are commonalities in how his legacy has been perceived. These included, for all, intertwining his life and work and in doing so presenting him as a role model to children and teachers. Other aspects of his influence focused on student voice, the breaking down of hierarchy and the enabling of creativity.


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Author Biographies

  • James Underwood, University of Northampton, United Kingdom

    Principal Lecturer in Education – University of Northampton, MA Education and PhD Education from the University of Cambridge

  • Hien Quyen Van, University of Northampton, United Kingdom

    MA Education graduate – University of Northampton

  • Ying Zhao, Glocal Education Ltd, China

    General Manager, Glocal Education Ltd – China, MA in Management from the University of Durham


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How to Cite

Differing Interpretations of Janusz Korczak’s Legacy in Schools that take Inspiration from His Work: A Study in Four Schools in the UK and Canada. (2020). Eastern European Journal of Transnational Relations, 4(1), 151-162. https://doi.org/10.15290/eejtr.2020.04.01.08