Think about your teaching practice. How has it evolved over time? What are you currently working on developing in your practice? What tools have you used during this inquiry time? Blog about it.
Distributive leadership is a style of leadership that focuses on spreading the leadership in a wider way than some of the more traditional hierarchical models of leadership. It can also be called a range of different terms like shared leadership and collaborative leadership. This essay will describe the main characteristics of distributive leadership, the conditions needed for distributive leadership to flourish, consider the significant advantages and drawbacks of distributive leadership as a model, explore my own history as a leader and draw comparisons between distributive leadership characteristics and my leadership style.
When distributive leadership is in action the members within the team lead and organise each other, without clearly defined hierarchies. It is when people all take turns leading. Leadership comes from any of the members not just the appointed leader. Team members are fully accountable to each other and do not abdicate all responsibility to the appointed leader. Or there is no appointed leader and all members of the team influence each other with power and decision making being spread rather than held by one person who wields that power over the group. Bush, Bell & Middlewood refer to distributed leadership as- “Drawing upon social psychology, a distributed perspective on leadership concentrates on the interactions rather than the actions of leaders.” (p56)
For distributive leadership to be effective healthy interdependent relationships need to be developed. There needs to be an understanding that conflict is healthy and a commitment to constructive and positive conflict resolution. Crawford states: “....headteachers have to perform a delicate emotional balancing act much of the time. They have to build a climate of genuine emotion where trust and acceptance are the key, and others not only want to follow them as leaders, but feel able to become leaders themselves. Positive emotional context then becomes a necessary condition of distributed leadership.” (p 155) Distributed leadership is a relatively complex leadership style and leaders need to develop a good understanding of how to influence rather than boss.
A major advantage of distributive leadership is the scope it gives to spread the load of energy and effort required across all members of the team. From the commonly known Goose Story-“When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point. It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs, whether with people or with geese flying south.” Anon.
Distributed leadership also allows one to give more opportunities for growing the leadership of less experienced or young staff.
Distributed leadership is complex and requires deep understanding. However it can be interpreted in simplistic and ineffective ways that do not result in any leadership really occurring. Robertson and Timperley say: “Both scholars and practitioners have invoked distributed leadership as an improvement strategy for schools, often with simplistic and unwarranted mantras such as ‘everyone is a leader’ or ‘the more leaders the better’.” (p159) Another disadvantage can be a less clear career pathway for people as the traditional pathways of team and middle leadership heading into senior leadership could be seen to be ‘watered down.’
For schools, which have traditionally been operated on a traditional heads down leadership approach, there are two different things to think about if you move to a different leadership style. There is all the organisational leadership required in a school, and then the leading learning aspect of school leadership. This is often referred to as managing versus leading as if the first is a negative and leaders should spend all their time on the latter. However my experience has shown me that without some degree of structural organisational leadership the opportunity for leading learning can become lessened as a leader ends up being reactive to perceived crises rather than being proactive around leading learning.
For a school to move to a more distributive model requires a basic underlying structure and organisation to be in place to allow creativity in practice to flourish. And to allow creativity to flourish means a leader moving from a position of having power over their staff to sharing that power with their staff. Hargreaves and Fullan refer to this by saying “The movement from power over to power with is still a struggle. But it is a struggle for a greater social good, not for self interest or supremacy. It is a struggle for a greater social good, not for self-interest or supremacy. It is a struggle that should not be a win-lose battle, but that will still require initial positive pushes and pulls from small groups at both the bottom and the top-pushes and pulls that you can be part of and that you might even start.” (p9)
In my personal history I came into school leadership as a relatively young teacher, influenced by the fact that I worked in very top down hierarchical schools where as a young teacher it was expected I “did my time, without questioning,” and “played the game.” It was expected as a young teacher that you spent many years being the lower totem on pole before you earned the right to lead in any way or even to speak up. When I didn’t agree with the type of teaching I was being asked to do the only way I could see for teaching the way I believed I should be in my classroom and influencing teaching pedagogies across a school was to get into leadership. In my eighth year of teaching I became an Assistant Principal and in my ninth a Principal. This hasn’t always been easy. As a young teacher still learning my teaching craft I was also in the position of leader. And in those days (mid 1990’s) there were very few opportunities for school leadership training. (Or a perceived need from many corners.) So naturally my first forays into leadership tended to be modelled on the leadership I had had modelled myself, although it was exactly that kind of leadership that had driven me into seeking leadership in the first place.
However over years I became more sure of myself both, in what I believed as an educator and as a leader. I have a firm belief in the importance of relationships, and in a positive environment in a classroom and a school that both allows for positive warm relationships and is at the same time demanding of accountability. I have come to believe that accountability systems that come from peers are those that are most effective. Interdependence in learning and in leading learning is integral to my beliefs of running effective learning in a classroom, or in leading an effective staff to run effective learning in a classroom. Henry Ford said it clearly when he said: “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
I have endeavoured to develop systems and relationships that allow all staff to share power and have a strong voice, not feel they have to “do their time,” first. This has though, caused problems for some staff members used to operating in this way who have moved to other systems with a more traditional approach and found that speaking their mind and trying to share power- as has been modelled to them in our systems, is not acceptable in some schools. Robertson and Timperley state: “Organisational routines more or less structure interactions among school leaders and teachers, influencing who talks to whom about what.” (p166)
Furthermore my experience in collaborative teaching, and in leading others to develop collaborative teaching over the last fifteen years has influenced further interest in development of a shared distributive model of leadership. It is, I believe, a natural outcome of successful collaborative teaching. I will explore this more in the following essay.
As a leader I am committed to working alongside my staff to coach the best out of them. I do not like being referred to as the boss. I am a leader, and I will coach others in both pedagogical practice and in leadership, but I want and do share the power. I do not want to tell, I want to influence others so that they strongly develop their own philosophies, practices and pedagogies.
Bush, Tony, Les Bell, and David Middlewood. The Principles Of Educational Leadership And Management. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2010. Print.
Crawford, Megan. Getting To The Heart Of Leadership. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2009. Print.
Hargreaves, Andy, and Michael Fullan. Professional Capital. New York: Teachers College Press, 2012. Print.
Robertson, Jan, and Helen Timperley. Leadership And Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2011. Print.