Distributed Leadership: State of Art

06 November, 2016

Harris

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This week the British Educational Leadership Management and Administration Society (BELMAS) published its latest issue of Management in Education (MiE October 2016; 30 (4)). It is a special issue on Distributed Leadership (DL).

This state of art of DL is very relevant and the range of authors of articles is excellent. 
- Alma Harris and John DeFlaminis show that DL (apart from all comments on the concept) can be used in practice and shows hopeful results.
- John B Diamond and James P Spillane (one of the founders of DL) provide a retrospective and a prospective.
- Philip A. Woods discusses the relation between authority, power and DL
- Jacky Lumby states DL to be a fashion or fad and
- Peter Gronn asks whether DL might not be fitted for purpose anymore.

The first two articles have a positive tone, the other three are more of a critical nature, adding complexity to DL or having doubts about the concept.

A state of art of this nature is relevant because DL in the past years became the subject of thousands of articles and many research efforts. It  overruled attention for transformational, transactional and authentic leadership, concepts focusing on the individual leader.

Some of the authors speculate why DL became so important. In my view people felt it to be a counterbalance against performative management that  became the (explicit or implicit) norm especially at the level of the educational system as a whole. The authors have other interesting arguments, see their articles. 

Alma Harris and her colleague are the most positive about DL. Later this month (24 November) Alma Harris is invited speaker for the Dutch Council for Primary Education. Her introduction speaks about her renowned research work in leadership issues (distributed leadership) and sustainable organisation development. Hopefully Alma Harris in her presentation speaks about results of DL and also about the relation of DL with equity. 
Recently to the surprise of many Dutch people inequity became a topic on the current Dutch educational agenda because of some rather critical reports showing growing inequity in the Netherlands. Solutions for the problem, already presented by the Minister, are welcomed but also seen as insufficient.

In the MiE issue Jacky Lumby is the most critical about DL exactly on this matter. I imagine it hits James Spillane in his heart. His focus at the start of DL was studying school leadership and management that improves all students’ learning opportunities - especially students who by virtue of race, class, gender, sexual orientation or first language have traditionally been disenfranchised by school systems (p. 147). (Inequity for students however does - strange enough - not show in his three major topics for future directions (p. 150)).

Jacky Lumby then, describes that DL was impelled in the first decade of this century by the National College for School Leadership (NCSL, now NCTL) and the OECD (Pont 2008*). DL became the dominant discourse in officially sanctioned school leadership texts in England (p. 164). 
She argues that focusing on DL is a displacement activity, drawing people’s attention away from the core purpose of leadership which is to address the persistent inequality of chances that children experience in schools (p. 161). 

I feel inclined to agree with Lumby.  But I also realise that it is more general for leadership concepts not to relate to inequity, sadly enough.

For me this special issue is a good initiative of BELMAS and a must-read for principals, researchers and consultants who want to sharpen their judgement about the usefulness of Distributed Leadership.

*Pont, Beatriz, Deborah Nusche, Hunter Moorman, Improving School Leadership, Volume 1: Policy and Practice, OECD, 2008

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