For the purpose of this essay I will be discussing distributed leadership and its implications in the educational setting. In my experience so far I have noticed aspects of this style becoming prominent in some areas of school life and university. I will use this experience of distributed leadership to reflect upon my own leadership skills in relation to my opinions and those embedded recent literature. It is noted, however, the term distributed leadership has many forms described in literature and definitions vary (Harris 2008).
More interestingly, this assignment will attempt to analyse the affect influence and power has on distributing leadership and its implications. It will also examine research (Leithwood & Jantzi, 2000; Silins & Mulford, 2002; Harris and Muijs, 2004; Spillane & Camburn, 2006; Leithwood, et al. 2007), in order to analyse the benefits and implications of this style towards the school and its community. Moreover, it will attempt to criticise contemporary literature by evaluating the negative aspects of distributed leadership.
Firstly, it could be argued that various forms of distributed leadership inevitably exist within the school context (Gronn, 2000; Timperley, 2005; Spillane, 2006). Furthermore, the creation of competition between schools, along with the pressure in meeting performance targets, has increased the workload for headteachers. Therefore, headteachers are becoming increasingly dependent on their teachers as leaders in helping to implement government changes and spread this complex workload (Gronn, 2002; Timperley, 2009; Thorpe et al. , 2011; Gunter, 2012).
With this in mind, perhaps it is becoming difficult to attract and maintain quality teachers within the profession. Arguably, flatter structures in leadership aim to create democratic schools and emphasise community by engaging staff in collaborative learning and problem-solving (Murphy, 2005; Currie and Lockett, 2011) with the view that it will revive performance and create a better delivery of government performance targets (Fullan, 2007; Hargreaves & Fink, 2006). Perhaps, working in a democratic way allows cohesion and a relaxed atmosphere. This will be discussed in detail later.
Looking back to those who have been leaders to me in the past, in a school environment, I could not pin point any who particularly stood out from the crowd, as they were all very motivating and influential teachers who were dedicated and passionate about the role. These inspiring teachers collaborated their resources and ideas for the benefit of others. Having experienced this I now realise this could have been a form of distributed leadership, as all the teacher’s cared for the development other departments within the school in order to maximise children’s learning.
Furthermore, I have learned that working together and communicating well as a team can successfully impact on everyone’s learning by ensuring no one falls behind. Similarly, Little (1990) and Spillane (2006) claim that distributed leadership is based on all the staff, including the leaders, effectively communicating and interacting in order to successfully impact practice and develop concepts. However, it could be argued that flatter structures could cause incoherence between staff members and confusion in roles or responsibilities.
Timperley (2009) supports this by saying that increasing the amount of leaders in a school could result in larger distribution of incompetence and bad ideas. Harris et al. (2007) believes that may be due to overlapping structural and cultural boundaries since there is less segregation between the leaders and those who are being led. This is supported by early theorists who believed fewer leaders saw effective communication and less conflict (Heinicke & Bales, 1953). Moreover, having fewer leaders increases recognition for those putting in more work as roles and responsibilities are clearly defined within the team (Festinger et al.1950; Melnick, 1982; Hargreaves & Fink, 2008). When thinking about the above and looking at my own experience of group work I now realise that if roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and that if I can trust the people I work with things seem to run smoothly. This is probably due to knowing they will take their responsibility of their role seriously and contribute to the success of the work. However, this trust takes time and it is difficult to adjust to after normally working alone. Literature suggests (Dinham, 2008; Louis et al., 2008; MacBeath, 2009) trust seems to be essential in distributed leadership and in schools where there is a high level of trust between teachers and formal leaders there seems to be an improvement in school outcomes. Perhaps, this is due to people feeling more comfortable in requesting help and learning from their colleagues (Murphy et al, 2009). This understanding is useful to me because as a next step, when I am in a leadership role, I will need to trustfully delegate tasks to people I work with either at university or school.
When thinking about my understanding of distributed leadership, in regards to roles and responsibilities, I have noticed that there should always be a leader to delegate tasks fairly. Day and Leithwood (2007) support the idea that leaders are often the gatekeepers to distributing the leadership roles. In the past I found I would tend to be the leader, however, when there was someone else involved in the group that also has leadership tendencies I found it difficult to share the leading role, which sometimes caused conflict towards getting to an outcome.
Similarly this could be compared to headteachers who may find it equally as challenging to accept changes in power structures (Leithwood et al. , 2008). It seems, distributed leadership is always assigned, permitted and implemented by the one in highest authority, the headteacher (Hatcher, 2005). Gronn (2002) expands on this by stating a teacher leader, whose ideas are seen to be good by others, also has considerable influence but cannot exercise these ideas unless permitted by the headteacher.
Ultimately, this suggests there is a distribution of responsibility and blame not necessarily power as the big decisions are made by the headteacher (Hallinger & Heck, 2009). The implication here is that existing hierarchical school structures go against distributed leadership practice and staff may find it difficult to adjust. That said, many schools are re-designing their structures to accommodate for flatter forms of leadership (Butt and Gunter, 2005; Clarke, 2007; Louis et al.2009) so that teachers can view their roles differently and undertake new responsibilities. Arguably, distributed leadership could reinforce authority and hierarchies as leaders oversee teachers to ensure staff are meeting standards (Fitzgerald & Gunter, 2007), Lieberman (1995) and Murphy (2005) have challenged this notion. Ultimately, since headteachers have to act in the interest of government targets and have a the best understanding of how their school works, this is the drive behind what and how tasks, roles andresponsibilities are distributed (Wright, 2003). Arguably, the main source of power and influence is outside the school parameters and is rooted in wider economic and political structures (Gunter & Ribbins, 2003). Considering the above and looking at my own roles within school context such as mentoring groups of children I began to analyse how I felt when given a role I was initially not ready for. At first I did not feel confident in the delivery of the task and needed extra support in this area in order to guide the children’s understanding.
Similarly, Timperley (2005) says that distributing leadership is only successful if the quality of the leadership given supports effective teaching to the pupils, which is done ethically and with the correct amount of knowledge. Over time I have noticed how my leadership style has changed according to the situation or task. Although, mentoring groups of children is a relatively minor role compared to teachers leading departments, perhaps headteachers might not want to distribute leadership as not every teacher has the capability to lead (Rhodes & Brundrett, 2008).
Slater (2008) advance on this by suggesting some people find it difficult to act in leadership roles and teachers may need extra support. That said, some teachers can and do lead without the additional support, however, it is suggested that any extra help assists the teacher in being an effective leader (Moller et al, 2005), as long as they have good leadership characteristics such as being tenacious and likeable. When thinking about the above, including trust and collaboration, I have learned that if I am given the necessary support and training I should be able to successfully complete any leadership task.
Furthermore, I have learned that leadership needs to be distributed to staff that have, or can advance in, their knowledge and skills required to complete the task delegated to them. Moreover, Leithwood et al. (2007) states this needs to be coordinated, preferably in some planned way, in order to have positive affect on school improvement. The main message here is that leadership capacity is not a fixed entity and it can be extended to the wider school community.
Until now I have discussed distributing among the teaching staff, however, there are other people to consider such as parents, pupils and the community, all of have a right to be involved in decision-making. Headteachers who consider stakeholders as equal partners actively encourage teamwork, networking, ongoing professional development and collaboration which can help with a range of pupils needs therefore make their schools good at learning (Day, 2008; Harris, 2010).
Similarly, Silins and Mulford (2002) found that student outcomes are more likely to enhance when leadership is distributed throughout the school community. According to literature (Leithwood & Jantzi, 2000; Leithwood & Mascall, 2008; Hallinger & Heck, 2009; Day et al, 2009; Mascall et al, 2009;) when teachers’ work together to solve certain pedagogical issues it encourages staff morale, motivation and self-esteem which in turn impacts positively on student behaviour and learning outcomes.
An implication might be that school development is enhanced, along with positive student achievement and learning outcomes, when teachers have opportunities to collaborate, communicate and are involved in decision making (Little,1990; Silins & Mulford’s, 2002; Harris & Chapman, 2002; Murphy, 2005; Spillane et al, 2006; Hallinger & Heck, 2009).
This is supported by range of studies (Portin, 1998; Blase and Blase, 1999; Morrisey, 2000; Gronn 2002; Spillane & Camburn, 2006; Day et al, 2008) that highlight the benefits of strong relationships between school communities and the importance of being involved in decision-making process towards school improvement. Once more, the headteacher is the main facilitator in the teachers and pupils learning and development (Lewis & Murphy, 2008).
Therefore, another implication for this model of leadership is the headteacher will need to have the necessary characteristics, discussed earlier, to be a good role model that reflects positive schools values (Lewis & Murphy, 2008). On reflection of what is viewed to be good characteristics of a leader it is helpful to look towards the media to people who are perceived as being inspirational and talented such as those in the Nobel Peace Prize awards.
For example, when comparing a single inspirational character such as the 16-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who firmly and bravely stands up for what she believes in to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, of 500 staff, who could be perceived as being equally inspirational, it seems, people like to put face to an inspiring leader. This is more difficult to do for such large body of people, which could be said for the structure of distributed leadership in schools where staff have many leaders.
Since leaders have to implement values in schools in order to improve educational practice, people like to see passionate leaders who can turn their beliefs into reality (Davies & Brighouse, 2010). By saying this, perhaps we do not need more leaders. Instead, we need to be developing leadership qualities and practices that challenge our current perspectives on leadership styles, in order to become more passionate, energetic and committed to helping all pupils reach their full potential (Davies & Brighouse, 2010).
In summary, much depends on the way in which leadership is distributed, how it is distributed and for what purpose (Harris et al. , 2007). Although improvements have been seen in schools that exercise distributed leadership in England, Finland (Harris and Chapman, 2002), Norway (Moller et al, 2005) and Australia (Gurr et al. 2005) less attention has been paid to exploring the empirical evidence for some of the claims made (Harris, 2010; Mascall et al. 2009).
It remains clear that certain questions about the impact of distributed leadership on organisational development remain unanswered and there seems to be many forms of influence within a school besides the headteacher (Harris, 2010; Spillane, 2006; Spillane & Camburn, 2006). It is important to note that distributed leadership is not automatically a good thing (Hargreaves & Fink, 2006; Harris & Spillane, 2008) and having reviewed the empirical evidence available, Leithwood et al.(2007) conclude that, we need to know much more about the influence and barriers, unintended consequences and limitations of distributed leadership before offering any recommendations. Critics argue that distributed leadership is nothing more than a ‘new orthodoxy’, which reinforces managerialist principles (Fitzgerald and Gunter 2007; Timperley 2005). However, research mentioned in this assignment suggests that there is an important relationship between distributed leadership and positive organisational change. So we cannot simply dismiss distributed leadership as a ‘new orthodoxy’ without adequate empirical confirmation.