15 Mar 2017

Distributive Leadership as the School Turnaround Lens

Distributive Leadership as the School Turnaround Lens

 The majority of traditional leadership structures are top-down in distribution of authority and tasks.  Distributive Leadership research identifies there is another leadership model that focuses on leveraging system wide leadership practices.   Research supports the implementation of distributive leadership as the school turnaround lens.

To understand distributive leadership, it is useful to first define traditional leadership. Traditional leadership structures often consist of a few individuals with appointed titles as leaders.  Decision making authority and responsibility rests largely with these few individuals.  Most of the leadership activities are spent on task completion and little to no attention is spent on the interconnectivity of processes, people and resources necessary to complete the tasks.  While there can be pockets of success within traditional “top-down” leadership structures they tend to be less sustainable, systemic and repeatable.  The vast majority of the institutional knowledge rests with an individual or individuals and not the collective.

Traditional Top-Down Leadership:  A Focused Approach

  • Authority/leadership by title
  • Linear leadership model which is typically top-down
  • Decision making by a few
  • Function of what individual leaders know and do
  • Focus on the tasks of individual
  • Creates “informal leadership” subcultures that may not mirror the formal organization’s leadership structures
  • Less sustainable and repeatable

Unlike traditional “Top-Down” leadership structures, Distributive Leadership as the school turnaround lens establish formal leadership positions, in addition to structures and processes for all members within the organization.  System-embedded learning is not just a matter of addressing leadership at the district level.  It also require coherence among all elements of the system (Fullan, M. 2009. Leadership development:  The larger context.  Educational Leadership, 67(2), 45-49).  The distributive process grants authority and not just responsibility, to each member of the organization by creating a broad leadership community. While task completion is a function of the Distributive Leadership model it is rooted in the interconnectivity between individuals, defining roles and articulating the responsibilities of the collective. The staff is empowered to be active participants in the proc

When Distributive Leadership practices are in place student learning improves.  There is a focus on Identifying leadership for learning strengths and high-leverage opportunities for refinement to improve student learning, identify current leadership for learning practices, use data to prioritize and inform actions, clarify practices that need to be in place, develop capacity to use practices effectively, gather evidence practices are improving, interpret evidence, act on evidence (Coaching/Professional Learning), identify core values and gather evidence of change and reflect deeply to make meaning and decide on next steps to sustain improvement.

Distributive Leadership as the School Turnaround Lens:  A Focused Approach to continuous improvement efforts should include the following strategic focus areas

  • Focus on interconnectivity of all actors- autonomy, authority and accountability
  • Leadership practices through collective knowledge and actions
  • Collaborative decision making processes
  • Increased transparency- who, what, why when and how
  • Identification of tasks, actors, actions and interactions
  • Connects school wide initiatives with associated tasks
  • Increases systemic and systematic continuous improvement that is repeatable
  • Equity for all students

The staff at Strategic Education Collaborators believes in focusing on distributive leadership as the school turnaround lens by which we work with our clients.  Our staff are all experienced school administrators.  We understand the school culture and that decisions cannot be made in a vacuum by a few individuals but rather, must be a collective process.  We are experienced in working with schools and districts, large and small, across the country in school turnaround efforts.  Please contact Strategic Education Collaborators to learn now we can be your collaboration process in your continuous improvement journey.


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