Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Power of Distributive Leadership

Harvard’s Richard Elmore defines distributive leadership as the sharing of leadership among two or more people. Distributed leadership (DL) is not about delegating. Instead, it is about finding the best path to decision-making by tapping the expertise, ideas, and efforts of everyone involved.
It takes a secure and confident school leader to give up the “locus of control” to his/her constituents. The benefits of doing so are enormous. Consider the payoffs:
1. People are motivated to complete the task before them.
2. People feel vested in completing the task and are likely encouraged to assume more responsibility in the future.
3. People will appreciate the educational leaders in the district and this will likely improve the overall relationship between the leaders and teachers in the learning community.
4. The decisions made will likely be authentic and “good” decisions since the experts in the trenches (the teachers) will be using their experiences, successes and failures to influence the final decision.
How to distribute leadership? It starts with the attitude. School leaders need to be confident and secure with themselves before they can distribute leadership among their constituents. Committees are one of the best avenues through which to share decision-making. For example, establishing a curriculum committee of teachers charged with forging a vision for the program and then selecting textbook materials that support the vision provides small groups the opportunity to take ownership over the direction of the content area.
When fostering the distributive leadership model, it is the leader’s primary responsibility to do two things: 1. Establish a collaborative, honest, and communicative tone to the setting, whether it be a meeting, an informal gathering or a large-scale event such as a district strategic planning session with students, parents, teachers, and administrators. 2. Articulate in very clear, straightforward and simple terms the goal(s), questions to be answered, and/or tasks to be accomplished. It may help for the leader to physically remove him/herself from the meeting or gathering after establishing the goals, tasks and/or needs. Presence can sometimes send strong non-verbal signals to a group charged with taking ownership over the process. Checking in with the group to further guide, redirect, or support the group’s efforts to accomplishing the mission of the gathering helps to keep everyone on track.

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