What is distributed leadership? (Wing Institute Original Paper)

September 2, 2020

Distributed Leadership: Distributed leadership, in which the principal shares certain leadership work with teachers to optimize student and school outcomes, has emerged as a leading school leadership model, and indeed is reflected within recent principal leadership standards. The model’s origins lie in research that suggested that principals cannot “do it alone,” in today’s complex and challenging school environments, and that teachers have often performed leadership work that was not acknowledged. Rather than simple task delegation by principals, distributed leadership involves teacher leaders and administrators collaborating together to perform leadership practices, and sharing responsibility for outcomes. Research has shown positive associations between distributed leadership and a variety of teacher and student outcomes, including teachers’ professional efficacy and teaching effectiveness, and student academic performance. However, distributed leadership’s positive outcomes are contingent upon having leadership activities enacted based on patterns of staff expertise. Critics of distributed leadership note the potential for growing teacher workloads without corresponding compensation, and the possibility of exclusion of certain groups of teachers from leadership work. Careful planning and purposeful design, a collaborative work culture based on trust and respect, and having teachers at the school who possess leadership capacity, all appear to be needed ingredients in order for distributed leadership to be effective. School leadership teams, in which the principal works with a team of teacher leaders to share leadership work, represent an example of distributed leadership in action, and have been shown to accelerate and sustain school reform work.

Citation: Donley, J., Detrich, R., States, J., & Keyworth, (2020). Distributed Leadership. Oakland, CA: The Wing Institute. https://www.winginstitute.org/leadership-models-distributed

Link: https://www.winginstitute.org/leadership-models-distributed