This assignment will explore the leadership practices of both distributed leadership and teacher leadership. Where necessary these practices will be applied to the environment of school A. School A is an inner city comprehensive secondary school with a large intake of English as an Additional Language (EAL) students.
In 2009 School A achieved its best ever GCSE results in history with 72% of students achieving an A-C grade in Maths and English. These results placed the school within the top 10 best performing schools in the LEA. Other schools in the top 10 included independent grammar schools or outer city comprehensive schools. However, in 2010 the school was unable to maintain the successes of the previous year as overall GCSE results fell by 4%.
It could be argued from this, that the school had neither the leadership capacity to sustain or improve (Ansell, 2004) its position. Kotter (1998) has identified eight principal errors that cause organisations to fail and the applicable principle in this scenario is declaring victory too soon. However; this was not the case for school A, the problem was that three strong leaders whom held senior positions were promoted to other schools around the borough and as a result the rising GCSE trend was unsustainable. Lewis (2003) describes such situations as an uncontrollable barrier that impacts upon organisation improvement. A differing view by an external practitioner had highlighted that the lack of distributed leadership or teacher leadership practices may have hindered the schools chances of improving.
Leadership was the term commonly used in all of the examples given above and the opinions of the external practitioner provided me with a focus for this assignment. As a result I intend to examine the literature around leadership, in particular how distributed leadership and teacher leadership are perceived and practiced. The policy and theory related literature review will allow me to develop a greater insight into the two leadership styles, which may well improve my practice as a middle leader. To meet the aims of my project I will answer the following questions and where necessary apply these to the context of my school;
What is leadership and educational leadership?
What are the key features of distributed leadership and teacher leadership?
What are the similarities and differences between distributed leadership & teacher leadership?
What are the merits and constraints to distributed leadership & teacher leadership?
2. What is leadership and educational leadership?
Despite decades of research into leadership, writers still remain divided over the answer to the question ‘what is leadership? One powerful criticism is that leadership is a label attributed to human behaviour and that this term can be interchanged with another term (Lakomski, 2005). Cuban (1988, p190) states that “there are more than 350 definitions of leadership”. Paglis and Green (2002) describe leadership as the process whereby a person identifies where the group is at present, where they need to be and then devises a strategy for reaching their destination. Northouse (2007) defines leadership as a process where an individual influences a group to achieve a common goal. Out of the two definitions I feel that Northouse (2007) definition provides the stronger answer to my research question as the definition takes account of personality traits such as ‘influence’ which Paglis and Green’s (2002) definition does not dwell into. Yukl (2002) explains this influence process as a social influence process whereby intentional influence is applied to structure the tasks and relationships within an organisation.
Earlier researchers by Stodgill (1948) reviewed 124 trait studies of leadership and found several personal factors of leadership which included responsibility, participation capacity and status. However, the criticism was that these studies did not examine how aspects of contexts and personality traits were interrelated in leadership studies. As a consequence many attempts to find universal qualities of leadership proved to be fruitless (Shorter and Greer, 1997). This led to the emergence of many leadership models.
Nevertheless, the term leadership within organisations became associated with innovation and the ideas of change, as a result was elevated in status above management (Gronn 2004). Cuban (1988) stated the contrast in leadership and management to be vast, as leaders sought change and wholeheartedly implemented it whereas managers preferred to maintain the ‘status quo’. For this reason, many businesses recognised the importance of leadership as the key driver to their future success. However, applying Gronn’s (2004) and Cuban’s (1988) ideas to education I feel that it is necessary for the Headteacher to both play the role of a manager and a leader. This is because the Headteacher is responsible for the school vision (leadership) but needs to take practical steps to implement the school strategy (management). Bolman and Deal (1997) share my thoughts and state that modern organisations require practical managers that lead others in achieving a common goal.
Educational leadership is a specific area of leadership within education. Although as highlighted earlier defining leadership is impeccably difficult, however educational leadership within a school setting is defined as a process that guides the talents and energies of, teachers, students and parents to achieve the common educational aims. Preliminary the aim of successful leadership is securing and sustaining improvement (Hopkins, 2001).
School improvement has been at the forefront of educational reform leading to many writers discussing the positive benefits of leadership to student learning and school improvement. Wallace (2002) explains the impact of leadership upon school effectiveness and school improvement to be of great importance. Leithwood and Riehl (2003) share a similar view and state that large scale studies of schooling conclude the effects of leadership on student learning to be educationally significant. For this reason the term educational leadership has made its mark within education.
It is evident from the literature review that no universal definition has been noted for leadership; however it has allowed me to discover that leadership is a process and one which brings about many models of leadership. In school, leadership is considered to be a process that will support schools to be successful (Harris 2004).
Traditionally, educational leadership focused around the heroic model of leadership where the Headteacher demonstrated heroic features such as authority, courage and control (Johnson, 1997). The post-heroic model lays emphasis on teamwork, participation and empowerment. In this situation, school leadership does not dictate and control, but collaborates with others regarding organisational plans and operations. (Eicher, 2006). As schools become more challenging places to control and lead it has become necessary for Headteacher’s to promote school leaders as a means of sustaining improvement. The National College for School Leadership support this view and state “As schools become more complex places to manage and lead, we need many more leaders than ever before” (NCSL, 2008).
The capacity building model is focused around the promotion of leaders. At the centre of the capacity building model, it has been discussed, is “distributed leadership along with social cohesion and trust” (Hopkins and Jackson, 2002, cited in Harris 2004 p12). In short, distributing leadership equates with taking full advantage of the human capacity within an organisation. This creates opportunities for all teachers to become leaders and contribute towards the schools vision (Harris & Muijs, 2005). In the context of my own situation as a middle manager the school has supported my development extensively, as two years ago I started off as a NQT, now I am a middle manager on a fast track senior leadership training programme. Through the support of this development it can be argued that a form of capacity building has taken place.
3. What are the key features of distributed leadership and teacher leadership?
Distributed leadership is one form of leadership that has raised the interest of many researchers within the educational field. Prominent researchers within this field include James Spillane, James Duignan and Alma Harris. As a result Bennett et al. (2003) address that there is little agreement to the term of distributed leadership and consequently the interpretations of this term vary from writer to writer and some of the interpretations of distributed leadership are related to collegiality. Connections have also been made between ideas of democracy, empowerment, and autonomy; however the integration of these elements is not made explicit. (Harris 2004). Most helpfully Bennett et al. (2003) suggest that it is more practical to imagine distributed leadership as a way of thinking about leadership as oppose to seeing it as another technique or practice. This view is shared by Spillane (2006) who suggests the key feature of distributed leadership to be used as a framework to examine leadership.
Another key feature discussed by Woods et al, (2004, p441) is that “distributed leadership highlights leadership as an emergent property of a group networking of interacting individuals”. This process shares some resemblance to transformational leadership as both focus on the actions of the group which Gronn (2000) describes as ‘concertive action’ and an additional dynamic that is the product of conjoint activity. But different to transactional leadership as this focuses around a leader and its followers.
The distributed leadership process also allows educational establishments to consider the boundaries of leadership, expanding upon the traditional leadership positions such as those of Assistant Heads and middle leaders. Woods et al (2004, p442) state that this process is “predisposed to widen the convectional net of leaders’ this in turn raises the question of which group and individuals are to be brought into leadership or seen as contributors of it”. So therefore distributed leadership concentrates on how leadership practice is distributed between informal and formal leaders. As Bennett et al. (2003 p3) note, “distributed leadership is not something “done” by an individual “to others”, rather it is an emergent property of a group or network of individuals in which group members pool their expertise”.
Upon reviewing literature surrounding teacher leadership, it is evident that a precise meaning can’t be found. The idea of teacher leadership focuses its attention towards the encouragement of teachers becoming leaders and engrossing in leadership activities outside the classroom environment. Barth (2007) describes this process of leadership where teachers take on initiatives that will inturn have a positive impact within the classroom. Similarly, Wasley (in Harris and Muijs, 2005) suggest that the key characteristic of teacher leadership is to support colleagues to develop work on their own initiative, rather than be lead by initiatives derived from a formal leader.
Within my responsibilities as a director of specialism (Business and Enterprise) in my school I have to co-ordinate several whole school enterprise days throughout the year. Rather than organising and leading activities myself, I get my team on board and discuss the delivery of these enterprise days. By getting the team on board I am creating opportunities for these members to build upon their strengths and offer opportunities where they can deliver these sessions independently. It is clear from this example that a form of teacher leadership is taken place within my department.
Another aspect of teacher leadership is for teachers to work together, constructing meaning and knowledge collectively and collaboratively (Lambert 1998). It is argued that if everyone has the capacity to do this, only then will school improvement take place (Katzenmeyer and Moller, 2001). This is why schools should have an understanding that leadership should not just be assigned to those within formal positions (Harris and Lambert, 2003). Research has also addressed that understanding leadership alone will not be enough to encourage all staff to play a part in the schools improvement process alone, a form of capacity building will also be required. (Harris and Muijs 2005). It has been highlighted from the Ofsted report during our last inspection that Assessment for learning practices should be consistently applied throughout the whole school. This has resulted to several teacher training days focused around assessment practices. Opportunities have been provided during these days for teachers to work collaboratively and share good practice to all. So, it can be argued that these practices share the opinions of both Katzenmeyer and Moller (2001) and Harris and Muijs 2005.
The largest numbers of staff within a school are teachers and therefore are at the centre of the capacity building model. The argument for this, is teachers are in the unique position to make change happen given that they are directly involved in the teaching process (Lieberman & Miller 2004). Therefore, the key characteristic of teacher leadership is to develop teachers to become leaders beyond the classroom thus leading to improved educational practice (Katzenmeyer and Moller, 2001).
4. What are the similarities and differences between distributed leadership & teacher leadership?
The focus of distributive leadership is the distribution of power that is stretched over a number of individuals and where the leadership activities are achieved through the interaction of many leaders (Spillane and Louis 2002). Harris (2005) shares a similar view and suggests that distributive leadership is centred on the creation of conditions where people work together and learn together. So it could be argued that teacher leadership is just one area under the umbrella of distributed leadership. Whereby, this process of distributive leadership is all about giving authority to teachers and empowering them to lead, (Harris 2005). This is a move away from the individualism and isolation of teaching brought forward by Lortie (1975 cited in Spillane et al 2001)
Teacher leadership and distributed leadership share many similarities (Muijs and Harris, 2003). Both leadership processes are centred on people working together and it is argued that the knowledge base of individuals would increase when compared to individuals who worked alone (Bennett et al 2003). This is why both leadership types promote the construction of knowledge through cooperation and active participation (Harris and Lambert, 2003).
5. What are the benefits and constraints of distributed leadership and teacher leadership?
This section will be broken into sub-headings generated from distinctive elements of distributed leadership, distinguished upon reviewing related literature surrounding this type of leadership practice. (Gronn 2000; Harris 2004; Timperley; 2005; MacBeath et al 2005; Spillane 2006).
Within this section I will discuss the benefits and constraints of both leadership types. As addressed earlier teacher leadership forms one strand of distributed leadership so therefore my discussion surrounding the benefits and constraints of this leadership type will also be addressed within this section.
Emergent property of interaction
One of the primary functions of distributed leadership is the development of interaction between groups of people (Woods et al 2004). Spillane et al (2001) describe this as a collective leadership process that leads to an evolution of leadership practice, one which is far greater than the sum of each individuals practice. In the context of my school, this type of process could involve groups of professionals (teachers and senior leaders) coming together and sharing their expertise on a particular topic i.e. improvement strategies of Assessment for learning within classrooms. A shared approach compared to a singular led approach would not only yield a stronger pool of information, but also create a sense of belonging amongst teachers. After all, it is teachers who are required to implement these practices. This approach is similar to theories of teamwork, where the view is that working together produces far greater results than working alone (Harris 2004). It is also suggested that the interaction approach would be best utilised in an environment where relationships are based on support and mutual protection (Belbin 2000).
In respective of teacher leadership, Griffin (1995) highlights the need for teachers to prosper as leaders so they can support the development of other teachers. The knock on effect of teachers not interacting with each other can be seen as an intellectual resource being wasted. A similar view is shared by Harris and Mujis (2005) who have reported that teachers’ knowledge and expertise increase after being involved in discussion sessions with other leaders. These viewpoints are shared by my colleagues who are on the teaching and learning committee within my school. Having the time to interact with other teachers and discuss improvement ideas/good practice has improved the teaching within their own classroom and this would not have been possible prior to the committee being set up.
‘Top-down’ Vs ‘Bottoms-up’
The term ‘top down’ leadership in schools is a process whereby strategies and solutions are identified by senior leaders and are then passed down the organisation (Hodgkinson 1991). Whereas the ‘bottoms up’ approach promotes employee participation at all levels of the decision making process. Ryan (2003) suggests that distributive leadership is a non-hierarchical collaborative approach. The benefits of the collaborative approach would increase work performance compared to the traditional hierarchical approach. (Leithwood and Riehl 2003). As a middle manager I have witnessed the bottoms up approach to be more favourable than the hierarchical approach. For example, when the Deputy Headteacher runs CPD sessions some staff are displeased with the development support provided as their views are not taken into consideration. When the contributions and views of teachers are considered, then there is a greater chance that teachers will implement school strategies and support school goals. (Sheppard,1996).
Research has made it known that the authoritarian ‘top-down’ style of leadership is common in schools that are in special measures (Gray, 2000) compared to improving schools that have embedded distributive leadership (Muijs and Harris 2003). It is apparent from this research that ‘top-down’ leadership approaches are found within failing schools; however this point cannot be generalised as other factors could play a part towards a school deemed to be failing. Murphy and Meyers (2008) highlight lack of readiness for school, low socioeconomic status of students and urban school settings as a constituent to a failing school.
Furthermore, I feel that ‘top down’ and ‘bottoms up’ leadership approaches can coexist within a school and still be classed within the spectrum of distributed leadership. For example the Assistant Head in charge of teaching and learning at my school had put forward the five principles to monitor progress of students in lessons. The teachers administered these principles and were given the opportunity to discuss the results with the Assistant Head to identify improvement strategies for the problem areas. This process both involved formalised leaders and informal leaders working together on a similar cause and is described by Spillane (2006) as coordinated distributed leadership.
As a recognition of expertise
Distributed leadership focuses its attention on assigning experts to appropriate tasks within formal and informal roles and this is different to the traditional leadership model which would only assign formal leaders to take on leadership tasks. Owens (2004) suggests that schools operate under complex systems so therefore; it is unrealistic for the Headteacher to be an expert in all areas of the school. Applied to the context of my school, the Headteacher has recruited a business manager to deal with the financial aspects of the school and oversee the Building School of the Future (BSF) programme. The reason for this is, the business manager has previous experience not only in finance but most importantly holds the expertise in managing a school rebuild elsewhere. Although the Headteacher is ultimately accountable for the school finances and the rebuild, this role is assigned to an expert to ensure the efficient running of school operations.
Expertise can also be drawn from school teachers. By creating a climate that identifies teachers’ know-how will bring out the leadership within those teachers. For the Headteacher to seek expertise outside the formalised roles will empower those individuals (Hargreaves, 1999). However, in my opinion there proves to be unanswered questions with Hargreaves (1999) thoughts as no mention is made when the expert i.e. teacher is not skilled or enthusiastic to lead and as a result the process of identifying expertise may become unproductive. However, Duignan (2006) does shed some light on my thoughts and mentions recognising expertise will promote an ‘allowed-to-be-a-leader’ culture; this can be a powerful tool in the motivation, support and appreciate of teachers. Conversely it is argued by Katzenmeyer & Moller (2001) that teachers can be supported to develop their leadership potential, but teacher leadership can only blossom within a culture where the opinions of these leaders are respected.
Nevertheless, it is suggested that the support and expertise offered by teachers can fulfil the responsibilities of the site leaders (Keedy & Finch 1994). Lambert (1998) believes that this allows experts to shine from outside the formalised roles of leadership and will increase their capability of becoming leaders. These views could potentially support the problems towards the decline in GCSE results within my school. An initial thought to the cause of this problem was through the departure of three senior leaders who were promoted to posts at other schools. The view here was that when strong leaders left their posts, it led to the decline in students’ academic results. Lambert’s, Keedy’s and Finch’s (1998) views could not be applied to the context of my school, as there was little evidence of a culture of teacher leadership being recognised, nurtured and built upon within my school. If the teacher leadership culture was apparent then the school may not have been affected when the senior leaders left their posts. Harris and Lambert (2003) support my view and put forward the notion that all teachers harbour leadership capabilities and if unlocked can be engaged for the benefit of the school.
It has been noted from the literature on teacher leadership that formal roles such as lead teachers were established to recognise the efforts of teachers, however; these programmes were found to be ineffective as Smylie and Denny (1990) found out. These teacher leaders could not fully support their fellow teachers as most of their time was taken up attending meetings as opposed to spending time at improving the practice of other teachers.
Supporting school improvement
It is argued that leadership that is distributed can support capacity building in school and contribute to school improvement (Harris 2004). This view is supported by Silns and Mulford (2002), their research within this area has identified that student outcomes are likely to increase if the leadership is distributed throughout the school community. However, it is Harris (2004) that brings to our attention that more evidence is required to confirm the relationship between student learning outcomes and distributive leadership.
Hallinger and Heck (1998) also bring to our attention that the quality of teaching and learning play a pivotal role in supporting student achievement. If the students are doing better compared to the previous year then the school is seen to be improving. School leaders need to recognise that teachers have contributed extensively to this improvement. Literature has also highlighted that teacher leadership can lead to improved student outcomes as knowledge and skills are shared in order to improve instructional practice (Smylie, 1994) This view is shared by Lieberman and Miller (2004) who suggest, when teachers have opportunities to lead and share good practice the chances of securing the quality of teaching learning is increased. Barth (2007) adds to this view by stating that “schools badly need the leadership of teachers if they are to improve”
It is apparent from the views of the writers above; that teacher leadership plays a crucial role in raising attainment. If effective teacher leadership practices are in place then students’ attainment will increase. This may not be the case within my school as GCSE results had fallen by 4% compared to the previous year. Therefore; this raises the question is teacher leadership not prominent in my school or is leadership on a whole poor? Moreover, Mendez-Morze (1992) research into effective urban schools has highlighted that student achievement could only be raised with the guidance of an effective leader.
-Tensions & barriers to distributed leadership and teacher leadership
There are no guidelines available as to how distributive leadership should be implemented and this is the key concern of this type of leadership. Other leadership models that exist, encompass guides of delivery for example, John Adairs (1973) Action Centred Leadership model provides a blueprint for the leadership of a team or an organisation. As the model is open to interpretation, the distributive process may lead to the abuse of power and as a result the intentions of this leadership style may prove to be invalid (Maxy and Nguyen 2006 cited in Mayrowetz 2008). Gunter and Ribbins (2003) support this view and address concerns to what distributive leadership will look like in an organisation. Spillane (2005) challenging these concerns and points out that distributive leadership is a way of thinking of leadership and as a result no blueprint can be made available nor an instruction of how leadership should be practiced in a school. This view is supported by Harris (2005), upon the review of both Spillane’s and Gronn’s work into this process of leadership and addresses that distributive leadership is a way of studying leadership as opposed to explaining leadership practice.
Also, the distributive process encourages teachers to take on leadership roles, in my opinion there is a significant problem with this as an assumption is made that teachers are capable in taking on leadership roles. Smylie (1994) study of teacher leaders and their principles brought out that teachers raised concerns about the lack of training that was provided towards building new working relationships. In my experience leaders require some form of training prior to taking on leadership responsibilities. The expertise of potential teacher leaders hold may not be effective if the teachers are not capable to lead. This is why in my school the majority of leaders assigned to middle leadership and senior leadership positions attend training courses delivered by the NCSL.
Centralised systems of accountability that hold the Headteacher accountable can prove to be another barrier towards successful implementation of distributive leadership. One reason for this is that the Headteacher may be reluctant to delegate their power as he/ she may feel vulnerable due to the lack of control they harbour once others bear the burden of responsibility. OECD (2008) state that this may be true in cases where legal, HR, and financial control is given to others in the school. This is not the case with my school as the Headteacher has given away some of her power to others for example the responsibility of the school finances has been passed down to the business manager within the school and the curriculum design and management passed down to the Deputy Headteacher. This demonstrates that distributed leadership is taking effect as responsibility has been delegated to experts within their fields.
Hierarchical systems that remunerate staff in accordance to their roles and responsibilities can prove to be a barrier to teacher leadership. Teachers may feel that the increase workload of additional responsibilities may not be worthwhile if financial rewards are not provided, in return may lead to teachers not being motivated enough to take on leadership roles. In my experience of taking on additional teaching and learning leadership responsibilities when I was teaching a full timetable, I had problems fulfilling my role fully due to the lack of time made available for me to implement my additional leadership responsibilities. My view is supported by several other studies which recommended that time has to be made available for teachers to plan and discuss whole school plans, curriculum matters or liaising with external bodies (Ovando; Seasore-Louis et al., cited in Muijs and Harris 2003).
I am aware of the benefits that distributed leadership can provide, in particular having a framework to examine and understand leadership practice and developing group interactions through the collaboration process. However, the literature has acknowledged that distributed leadership is a new phenomenon that encompasses a limited literature base and a widely accepted definition (Bennett, Harvey, Wise & Woods, 2003; Harris, 2004; Timperley, 2005; Spillane, 2006). In addition there is also little empirical evidence towards the effectiveness of the impact that distributed leadership has towards increasing student attainment and promoting instructional improvement. On this basis, I was unable to find a definitive answer to my hypothesis, which was to determine whether distributed leadership could improve student grades. What I have become aware of is, distributive leadership can play a part to increasing student attainment.
Apart from the improvement of student grades, distributed leadership is a powerful leadership strategy where evidence has shown contributes directly to school effectiveness and development (Muijs and Harris, 2003).
It is also suggested that the structure of teacher leadership creates a more professional work atmosphere (Little, 1995), which leads to building of a professional community.
Studies have found that a school with higher levels of teacher learning and leadership, significantly enhances teacher work in the classroom (Silns and Mulford, 2002) as such an environment encourages collaboration and trust. However; the research has found Headteacher’s must be prepared to create a culture and climate that is favourable to teacher leadership (Bishop, Tinley & Berman, 1997) as teacher leadership offers a realistic understanding of the idea maintained by the theory of distributed leadership as it presents leadership as an invention of a collective activity with all teachers being involved.
Overall, the literature reviewed has allowed me generate a deeper understanding of both distributed leadership and teacher leadership. It was also apparent from the application of the literature to the context of my school that distributive practices do exist with some elements of teacher leadership. However, I am aware that it was not possible for me to directly link/test the literature to my problem as no action research into distributed and teacher leadership methods were trialled and tested. Nevertheless the literature has enabled me to build a theoretical base that would be applied to my dissertation project, focusing on teachers’ and Headteacher’s perception of teacher leadership in a secondary school. Furthermore, the literature will also support my teaching practice as a middle leader, in particular paying more attention towards facilitating and developing teacher leaders within my department