05 January 2023

Distributive leadership


Distributive leadership


Topic by: Cristina (originally: Distribution of leadership)

Essay by: Lawrence


Distributive leadership, also Distribution of leadership or Distributed leadership, is a relatively new thinking and approach in education and up to an extent in industry as well. For our purposes we can also look at general issues in education, especially: how should school children be taught during their formative years? In business the idea is also one of how to make the organization better at what the organization does. Whatever distributive leadership is, many would argue that what matters is the practice of leadership and not some theory of leadership.


In both contexts leadership is not to be considered as a top down command structure but rather something like a motivational skill to help others follow someone who is better placed to solve problems in their sphere of expertise. Of course, my presentation of distributive leadership here is not enough to understand the concept. In a way we are talking about a scientific/psychological/sociological concept and, therefore, it has very little connection with the everyday use of leadership in our language.


The references below are an excellent introduction to the topic, so I won’t be writing at length here. However, there are some issues worth highlighting.


In education, for example, we cannot have a theoretical or practical theory of leadership until we have a decent theory of how children learn: i.e. a theory of learning. And by children I am also including adults at university level; we can even extend this to all contexts of learning including businesses and social culture. Today we know, as if in the past we did not know, that children learn better when they are not hungry or surrounded by family turmoil and in the class room they are not bored witless.


So before teachers can become leaders in the context of our discussion they must have skills in attracting pupils to follow them and learn what they are teaching (see Alma Harris on this point). But some teachers only see themselves at delivering the syllabus and not motivational coaches for children. Motivation and coaching does not seem to be within the pay grade of some people whether they are teachers or not. We have all been there: there were, and maybe still are, teachers in our life who we were committed to their teaching and others we detested at sight.


In a way teaching and leadership are not a matter of doing what you are told, but rather giving motivational reasons for others to learn what is required of them. But this is easier said than done! Exploiting the creativity and curiosity of learners should always be the foundations of learning: why are we learning this is just as important as what to learn and how to learn.


Distributive leadership is practically equivalent to letting the experts exercise their expertise, even if this is alien to neo liberals today or the dogmatic social engineering of the left. But this is the issue: who is accountable for education? Is it the state, the government, society, teachers, parents, children or adults paying for their university degree?  Is it a case of those who pay the piper call the tune, or a case of we pay the piper because we trust the piper will know best?


Education and learning are so important in society that we are bound to come across some vested interests. Education is not called the formative years of a person’s life for nothing. What we learn and why we learn will form, amongst other things, our political views. It should, therefore, not come as a surprise that politicians have an interest in education and what is being taught. It is also very difficult for politicians to show that they are indeed being accountable if the results of their policies take fifteen or twenty years to reach fruition. Hence, the absurdity of syllabus content manipulation, continuous assessment instead of feedback reports (to the child not the parents), or artificial barriers such as language testing (language is not tested but practiced) and so on.


This is not to say that responsibility and accountability are not required, only that the leaders and their peers are the best placed what is accountable for their actions in the sphere of operations. Of course, managers, director, head teachers and others all their leadership duties and obligations within their context.


One final issue is what is the causal chain of decision making? In a business context the final causal effect should be productivity and presumably profits. But what about education? As I have already said the results of education might take decades to mature and materialise. Today we have systems to account for the effects of education and how individuals perform in society, even if these systems are full of flaws.


To conclude is distributive leadership, just another name for delegation, even though Harris disagrees with this. And one issue that seems to be missing from the debate is the little matter of budget and money. As long as money is both king and queen in our society and managed by real people it might be very difficult for such people to be magnanimous and generous with their money and power.  


S02E09 - w/ Alma Harris - From Distributive Leadership to System Recall (Education context)



Great leadership is a network, not a hierarchy - Gitte Frederiksen (Business context)



Distributed leadership. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia (General overview)



Programme for International Student Assessment. (Background on educational standards)

In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. (https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Programme_for_International_Student_Assessment&oldid=1130526755)


Best and take care




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PhiloMadrid meeting on Skype 6:30pm Sunday 8th January: Distributive leadership



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