Establishing a Common Vision, Values and Beliefs
It is imperative in any model of distributed leadership that all members are working off a shared vision, values and beliefs. The importance of shared vision, values and beliefs is evident throughout the literature. Wagner et al. (2006) use the example of a school superintendent. Traditionally in this school district, problems were identified by senior leadership, strategies were developed and it was then up to the schools to implement. It is clear through this description that no regard for the unique context each of the schools lived was considered in such a model. This superintendent however, reframed the problem, the problem was no longer something he was going to solve, but instead a problem that the entire organization was to solve collaboratively. The first step in developing a collaborative culture was to invite more individuals into the problem solving process.
This invitation is essential in order for any shared vision, values and beliefs to develop. Halverson (2006) insists that it is essential that one “relax the cultural barriers to collaborative action.” This relational trust cannot be established unless individuals are able to come together in order and share their vision, values and beliefs. It is through these interactions that an understanding of where people are coming from, that a collaborative culture can begin to develop. Wagner et al. (2010) discuss the importance for formal leaders to establish cultures that are built on trust, respect and openness. It is argued that in such environments individuals are more willing to step up and lead, whether they be teachers, student, parents or another member of the learning community.
Distributed Leadership in Practice
It is clear as one reads through the literature that there are several definitions of what distributed leadership can look like. Coleman (2011) speaks directly to this issue arguing that the biggest problem with distributed leadership is that the “term remains vague and misunderstood”, that while there are many definitions, not enough research has been done to see how these models operate in practice.
Margolis and Huggins (2012) believe that formal leadership and delineation of roles serves a purpose and role in distributing leadership. It is in my opinion however, that this model of distributed leadership is superficial and does not provide the conditions necessary for leadership to emerge from all areas within a school or organization. One of the key challenges in allowing for a model of distributed leadership that encourages all to participate is the challenge of time. It is widely believed within a school building that when teachers have the opportunity to collaborate and to work together, that greater trust and understanding can be developed amongst a staff. Hargreaves and Fink (2006) explain that teachers learn best when they regularly work together and break down the isolation that exists within schools. With increasing cuts in education and more complex classrooms, providing the time and space needed to form these connections has been an ongoing challenge within schools.
While distributed leadership has been largely linear in approach through a hierarchical organizational model, I believe that new patterns of leadership are beginning to emerge. These environments recognize that leadership is not positional, but rather relational. Watson and Scribner (2007) discuss how examples of emergent leadership exists outside formal leadership structures. I have seen this in my own context, with individuals pursuing a project of personal interest and/or passion. These pursuits however are in addition to instead of embedded with a teacher’s mandated responsibilities. While pockets emerge, they often have to emerge outside of formal school structures, teachers meet on their own time in order to develop creative solutions.
While distributed leadership is largely considered a positive way to lead, but how it is interpreted and ultimately applied varies greatly from school to school. Successful implementation of a leadership model that allows for the emergence of leadership to occur from all areas within an organization is dependent on a shared vision along with the open sharing of values and beliefs amongst members. It is the role of formal leadership to establish conditions that facilitate connections between different members within the organization and to allow to create structures where these ideas can be shared effectively with other members.
Coleman, A. (2011). Towards a blended model of leadership for school-based collaboration.Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 39(296), 296-316. doi: DOI: 10.1177/1741143210393999
Crawford, M. (2012). Solo and distributed leadership: definitions and dilemmas. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 40, 610-619.
Foundation, E. (2012). Edcamp homepage. Retrieved from http://edcamp.org/
Fullan, M. & Donnelly, K. (2013). Alive in the Swamp: Assessing digital innovations in education. www.nesta.org.uk/sites/default/files/alive_in_the_swamp.pdf
Halverson, R. (2006). A distributed leadership perspective on how leaders use artifacts to create professional community in schools. Informally published manuscript, Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison.
Hargreaves, A., & Fink, D. (2006). Sustainable Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Jones, S., Ryland, K., Lefoe, G., & Harvey, M. Distributed leadership: a collaborative framework for academics, executives and professionals in higher education. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 34, 67-78.
Margolis, J., & Huggins, K. S. (2012). Distributed but undefined: New teacher leader roles to change schools. Journal of School Leadership, 22, 953-981.
Natsiopoulou, E. & Gioroukakis, V. (2010). When Teachers Run the School. Educational Leadership, 67(7), http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr10/vol67/num07/When-Teachers-Run-the-School.aspx
Watson, S., & Scribner, J. Beyond Distributed Leadership: Collaboration, Interaction, and Emergent Reciprocal Influence. Journal of School Leadership, 17, 443-468.
Wagner, T., Kegan, R., Lahey, L., Lemons, R., Garnier, J., Helsing, D., Howell, A., & Rasmussen, H. (2006).Change leadership: A practical guide to transforming schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.