Across the country classroom instruction is being “flipped”. Instruction is infused with technology as a tool used by students to individualize their learning. At the core of this flip is the individualization of instruction where the students are able to be a more active participant in their learning rather than a passive recipient. The use of technology allows the teacher to provide instruction and resources not provided in the traditional model driven by a single entity- the teacher. The teacher acts largely alone in responsibility for distribution of instructional decisions. In current school system leadership models superintendents and principals also are alone to follow a distribution model of system leadership. There is a more effective way. School systems must have flipped leadership from a distribution leadership model to one that is distributive focused on creating a continuous improvement culture of the collective.
Role of Leadership
The principal and superintendent are vital to the success to leadership sustainability. Arguably, at no time in our history have there been more pressures working against education reform efforts of school leaders. School administrators are expected to be Superman or Wonder Woman and to produce measurable results in shorter amounts of time. This responsibility is tasked of them to complete within a leadership vacuum. Threats abound that act against their ability to not only identify the change that is needed but to implement processes necessary to evolve the school district into an adaptable organization. A courageous and effective superintendent or principal recognizes this need and develops the organizational capacity to transform their school district. Institutional knowledge and capital cannot rest solely with an individual rather, must be ingrained in the culture of the school district. The average tenure of a superintendent is 3 years necessitating the need to shift power from individuals to the organization. There is no greater force acting against the ability of principals and superintendents’ abilities to initiate reform measures than change.
The Greatest Barrier is Change
Change is the greatest individual and institutional barrier acting against the ability of individuals and organizations to pivot to meet the rapidly emerging pressures facing school reform in America. Public school systems in America are very entrenched institutions with clearly defined leadership distribution models. In traditional school systems the authority and responsibility for distribution decision making rests with a few individuals and not the collective much like typical teacher driven instructional practices. For school systems to be able to address the 21st century changes necessary they must flip leadership from a distribution leadership model to a distributive leadership culture that connects espoused leadership with enacted leadership.
Distributive Leadership Approach
Traditional distribution leadership approaches focus on confining and defining leadership roles to a few anointed individuals within an organization thus, creating a systemic leadership vacuum. There is a distribution of tasks to individuals much like the traditional non-flipped classroom. This lack of clarity and empowerment throughout the organization acts as an impediment in traditional distribution leadership systems which tend to focus solely on task assignment and completion. Often time’s, sustainability of reform initiatives break down in this model when there is little to no attention paid on the actual work.
Leadership structures can and must be flipped from task distribution to a distributive model. Distributive Leadership processes establishes formal leadership positions, structures and processes for all members of the organization. The process grants authority and not just responsibility, to each member of the organization by creating a broad leadership community. This model is rooted in the interconnectivity between individuals, defining roles and articulating the responsibilities of the collective. While the task and results are still part of a distributive leadership model there is equal attention given to the interconnectivity of processes, people and culture within the building or school district. Much like the flipped classroom, teachers and support staff understand the task and their individual roles and responsibilities to achieve the desired results. The staff is empowered to be active participants in the process.
Much like classroom instruction, schools must transition to flipped leadership models to ensure sustainable continuous improvement. In doing so the reform efforts will continue even when faced with leadership changes and the mounting external pressures acting against change.