Distributing Leadership - Steve Barkley

Distributing Leadership

I am currently reading a 2012 report from OECD, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Preparing Teachers and Developing School Leaders for the 21st Century: LESSONS FROM AROUND THE WORLD.

The section on developing school leaders identifies the major responsibilities that leaders have for developing, managing, and evaluating the quality of teaching and learning…all at the same time that many systems’ programs are invading the time of school principals.
“In England, 61% of head teachers described their work-life balance as poor or very poor. Some have attributed this to long working hours or to deficiencies in working practices, such as school heads not knowing how to prioritize or delegate their work. 

In New Zealand, a study found that, eight years after major education reforms were introduced, school leaders’ administrative work had increased substantially and they were working ten hours longer per week, on average, than before the reforms. 

 This and other research finds that administrative demands are taking up 34% of school leaders’ time, clearly competing with educational leadership as their top priority.”

So in a time when school leaders are hearing more and more about the important work of being an instructional leader….guiding teaching and learning practices…more programs appear to drain time from an instructional focus.

The OECD report continues:
… effective school autonomy depends on effective leaders, including system leaders, principals, teacher leaders, senior teachers and head teachers, as well as strong support systems. That, in turn, requires effectively distributed leadership.  Leadership structures or more informal ad hoc groups based on expertise and current needs can be formed to encourage a distribution of power among these actors.

The National Education Association has implemented a program called Priority Schools Campaign to support struggling schools.  All of them are Title 1 or Title 1 eligible – serving poor students – and most of them serve large numbers of minority and English language learners.
Ellen Holmes, leading the NEA program states:
“Educators and principals recognize that sustained school change is actually more difficult under tight, top-down mandates. Structures that allow for more distributed authority and decision making elevate the wealth of expertise and experience in schools so that changes can be made in a meaningful way closely matching the needs of students and families in these schools. …Teachers want to be leaders, but their pre-service preparation does not adequately prepare them for this role and quite frankly, many principals are not sure how to cultivate a culture that recognizes and grows teacher leadership. The Priority Schools Campaign provides support to sites and local affiliates in developing teacher leadership.”

The OECD report seems to confer:
…collaborative leadership, as opposed to leadership from the principal alone, may offer a path to school improvement. There is also emerging evidence of the impact of teacher leadership on teacher self-efficacy where teachers are encouraged within their schools and within education systems to show leadership in relation to such areas as pedagogy, the curriculum and its assessment, evaluation and student behavior. There is also debate about the nature of standards which could be used to define collaborative leadership. One such example is the work of the Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium in the United States, involving higher education institutions and teacher unions, which has published a set of teacher leader model standards for use by the teaching profession itself. Last but not least, education unions are increasingly engaged in encouraging teachers to take the lead in their own learning.
The Teacher Leadership report summarizes the important connection between effective principal and teacher leadership:

“Teacher leadership can enhance the capacity of the principal: Teachers in leadership roles work in collaboration with principals and other school administrators by facilitating improvements in instruction and promoting practices among their peers that can lead to improved student learning outcomes. By doing so, they support school leaders in encouraging innovation and creating cultures of success in school. Teacher leadership can neither be effective nor successful without principal support, but neither can the principal maximize his or her effectiveness without harnessing the talents and expertise of teachers in leadership roles”

Instructional coaches and staff developers as teacher leaders need to be building continuing partnerships with principals and developing the leadership capacity of other staff members. Principals need to be continually supporting the leadership skills of everyone.
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