Despite the range of caveats surrounding the proposed benefits offered through the practice of distributed leadership, it remains a significant factor in the improvement of student outcomes across many schools.
In a purist sense, suggest Silcox, Boyd and Macneill (2015), a distributed leadership scenario is characterised by “a leadership culture where collaboration exists within the school … underpinned by both respect and trust between the individuals involved”; far from simple delegation they (Silcox, et al.) caution and certainly more than just an agreeable way to get teachers to do more work or accept directives from top down leadership structures.
Harris (2013) demonstrates that involvement in broad-based leadership enhances teachers’ self-efficacy, motivation and moral and generates a much higher commitment amongst teachers to the organisation and organizational performance. The flow on from these impacts of distributed leadership is improved teaching and learning. Studies have shown benefits of distributed leadership to student and school improvement (Heck and Hallinger, 2010) and student behavior and learning outcomes (Day, et al., 2011).
This particular focus on developing and building upon the individual strengths of teachers is very much in line with the new science of the individual. In his second book, Todd Rose explores the issues surrounding Taylorism and what has become know as averageranism – the flawed but frequent and convenient use of the average to, amongst many other things, judge student or teacher ability (Rose, 2016).
One practical means by which schools can effectively enact the science of the individual and build a distributed leadership model is in the engagement of a system of Instructional Coaching. The role of an instructional coach is to form a relationship with her assigned peers and to develop a partnership whereby the teachers experience growth learning. Jim Knight from the University of Kansas is a strong advocate and early adopter of Instructional Coaching and includes a number of resources within his website www.instructionalcoach.org.
By assigning leadership to a number of teachers within a school for the purpose of working alongside their peers in a coaching capacity, an opportunity is given to experienced and interested teachers to utilise their skills in a new and beneficial way. Consider also the advantage of providing a small period release to a number of staff members to work as instructional coaches, compared to the situation whereby just one staff member is assigned the role of a full-time coach. This group of teachers would benefit greatly from the opportunity to provide leadership and support for their peers – their level of motivation and allegiance to the school increases, their quality of work and the quality of all teachers work increases and a situation of autonomy rather than accountability begins to evolve.
And it is within this scenario of teacher autonomy whereby schools will experience the greatest gains. Distributed leadership, an appreciation for the individual strengths of teachers and a system of instructional coaching all work together to develop a culture of learning amongst teachers, which can only go on to benefit student learning outcomes.
Day C, Sammons P, Leithwood K, Harris A and Hopkins D (2009) The Impact of Leadership on Pupil Outcomes. Final Report. London: DCSF.
Harris, A. (2013). Distributed Leadership: Friend or Foe?. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 41(5).
Heck, R. & Hallinger, P. (2010) Testing a longitudinal model of distributed leadership effects on school improvement. Leadership Quarterly, 21.
Jones, S., Lefoe, J., Harvey, M. & Ryland, K. (2012). Distributed leadership: a collaborative framework for academics, executives and professionals in higher education, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 34:1, 67-78
Rose, T. (2016) The End of Average. Harper Collins. New York.
Silcox, S., Boyd, R., MacNeill, N. (2015) The myth of distributed leadership in modern schooling contexts: delegation is not distributed leadership. Australian Educational Leader. 37(4).