MA – Critical Commentary: Distributed Leadership

The conference at St Mary’s University College in October was a big event for me. It brought home the significance I felt about embarking on a Masters course and going back to university after fourteen years away. No-one had asked me to do it. I am not certain it will bring financial reward or move me on in my career. I wanted to know more. I was excited to hear Professor Dame Pat Collarbone was presenting the keynote. As one of the fore-runners at the National College of School Leadership, which I had visited in the summer, I anticipated an insight to school leadership national on a national scale. Having worked in many schools, I have evaluated many leaders, in my own way believing I knew enough to judge who was doing a good job. Now I was being invited to evaluate a leader of leaders.

I was disappointed by Collarbone. She adopted the statistics from a famous presentation called Shift Happens without referencing them (http://shifthappens.wikispaces.com for more information). She mocked twitter as I was posting the first of my tweets about her presentation (my twitter conversations including photographs of some of Collarbone’s slides can be viewed at: http://bit.ly/NCSLsmukOCT2009). Collarbone based her presentation on inspiring quotes designed to make the audience question their own assumptions. I had read these before. As an ICT teacher I strive to respond to what I see as the demands of the 21st century for pupils today. So, what was here for me? Remodelling, change management, workforce modernisation, emotional intelligence? All of this left me unsatisfied. I was not inspired as I had hoped to be.

It was only after more reading that I started to appreciate what Collarbone was trying to say. Her presentation title was ‘Creating Tomorrow: The critical importance of leadership’. My mistake was that I had thought this meant distributed leadership because that is what was being pushed at us in the MA. I thought all these academics were describing a way of being a leader, a method of leading. I expected Collarbone to tell me how to be a good leader. It was not until doing some wider research and reading Surrat (2009) and MacBeath (2005) did I realise that the leader didn’t matter. Surrat defines distributed leadership as ‘developing leaders to developing “leaderful” organisations’ Surrat (2009: 4) and it is this that made the penny drop. Distributed leadership is not talking about any one person and how they might behave. It is referring to the relationships between people, the ethical culture of the school being centred on an active philosophy of leadership. Everything I had read took on a new light. Frost and Durrant (2003: 2) cite teachers as ‘change agents’. Hargreaves (1999: 231) finds value in teachers working together ‘tinkering [as] essential for the conversion into new professional knowledge to occur’. Harris (2005: 167) deduces that ‘ distributing leadership to teachers, or ‘teacher leadership’ has positive effects on transforming schools as organisations and on helping to diminish teacher alienation (Hargreaves 1991; Little, 1990; 2000; Rosenholz, 1989)’.  ‘Teacher leadership’ is possibly a more helpful and informative title for distributed leadership. Reflecting on Collarbone’s speech makes more sense now but I can’t help thinking she missed a trick in not guiding us down this path.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the first module of the Masters. Time-management has been hard on me and my family. I am intimidated by studying again but relishing the opportunity to engage academia properly. It is frustrating at times when I realise I haven’t done an article justice or written without clarity. The group discussions have been rewarding and it has been a pleasure to get to know colleagues from a new angle, listening to their experiences and different approach to mine. The reading and talking and thinking have started me reflecting upon my own practice and looking at how to lead better. I would like ICT across the curriculum to be empowered by the teachers I work with, not led by me, but by their contributions. It is not good enough to set my expertise as the benchmark because being the ‘heroic leader’ (MacBeath, 2003: 1) does not work for the school. My final comment is that I am not yet convinced. Like with Collarbone’s speech, distributed leadership is making all the right noises and not quite delivering the punch-line. What it might be doing is providing a framework for Headteachers, present and future, to learn how to make a teaching team work well together.  The evidence is emphatic that this will improve a schools performance.

In the next module I will begin to think about possible research topics. This will certainly have something to do with computers and with my role in leading ICT across the school. It, whatever it might be, will certainly be a much better project because of what I have read in module one.


References

Collarbone, P. (2009) Creating Tomorrow: The critical importance of leadership, keynote address, St Mary’s University College, 10/10/09.

Frost, D. and Durrant, J. (2003) ‘Bottom up? Top Down? Inside-out? Joined up?’ International Congress for School Effectiveness

Harris, A. (2005) ‘Distributed Leadership’, in Davies, B. (ed) (2005) The Essentials of School Leadership, Paul Chapman.

MacBeath, J. et al. (2005) ‘Distributed leadership: A developmental process’. 18th International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement. Barcelona, 2-5 January.

Serrat, O. (2009) (on-line) Exercising Servant Leadership. Knowledge Solutions for the Asian Development Bank, accessed: 05/12/09, from: www.adb.org

MA – Critical Commentary: Distributed Leadership

2 thoughts on “MA – Critical Commentary: Distributed Leadership

  1. Jamie Portman says:

    “It was not until doing some wider research and reading Surrat (2009) and MacBeath (2005) did I realise that the leader didn’t matter. Surrat defines distributed leadership as ‘developing leaders to developing “leaderful” organisations’ Surrat (2009: 4) and it is this that made the penny drop. Distributed leadership is not talking about any one person and how they might behave. It is referring to the relationships between people, the ethical culture of the school being centred on an active philosophy of leadership.”

    Interesting stuff Dai. Your comment on the inter-relationship aspect of distributed leadership is very powerful indeed. You got a link to the ‘Surrat’ as mentioned? You reference it as an online article of sorts from http://www.adb.org but I can’t find any specifics

    Jamie Portman
    Twitter: @jamieportman

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