Distributed Leadership for Equity & Learning Toolset

This section is structured around five key levers which we see as working together to support the development of DLE in action.


How can distributed leadership for equity and learning (DLE) be developed and supported?

The development of DLE is a social process that involves facilitating a shared understanding of what DLE means, developing a culture, institutional structures, and social environment that enable DLE to become an active part of school life, and evaluating how DLE is working so that it can be continually improved.

A video by Amanda Roberts and Philip Woods (University of Hertfordshire, UK).


The distributed leadership for equity and learning tree

The metaphor of a tree is used in this section to illustrate the complex interaction and mutuality of the five key levers in supporting the development of DLE. The image reminds us that new initiatives need to be rooted in well-prepared ground. Equally, in order to bear fruit, developments need to be nurtured. They may not always flourish immediately but, with time and attention, can grow strong.
Key lever #1: Facilitating the development of a shared understanding of DLE

The first key lever in the development of distributed leadership for equity and learning is the facilitation of a clear and shared understanding of the concept of DLE itself.

Distributed leadership for equity and learning is leadership which is enacted by everyone in the school and which emerges from a particular combination of organisational features, namely:
A participatory culture-https://www.flickr.com/photos/chiszeo/8118812694

A participatory culture

A culture that views leadership as emergent, values participation and has an explicit commitment to core equity and democratic values of inclusive participation and holistic growth and well-being

[Tool #1: How near to DLE?]
An enabling institutional structure

An enabling institutional structure

An institutional structure that facilitates and supports leadership from across all parts of the organisation
An open social environment

An open social environment

A social environment in which people are valued for what they each individually bring to the work of the organisation, and positive relationships between people across status and other organisational boundaries are readily established to initiate and develop change
For DLE to work well, leadership needs to be seen differently. DLE is not a feature which an organisation either possesses or does not posses. Instead it is an organisational characteristic which can be present to a greater or lesser extent. This has been described in this toolset as ‘degrees of DLE’.

Key lever #2: A participatory culture for DLE
The second key lever in the development of DLE builds on the first and focuses on the development of a participatory culture. Culture is about the ideas and values that people share in an organisation and which influence everyday behaviour. The second key lever involves taking steps to build a set of shared ideas and values that support DLE. These ideas and values include valuing leadership from all parts and levels of the school and an explicit commitment to inclusive participation and holistic learning.

In a participatory culture for DLE:
Leadership as emergent

People view leadership as emergent

People view leadership as arising from ongoing flows of interactions across the organization and its hierarchy, not simply the actions of the single leader or small leadership elite.







[Tool #2: How do we need to think and value differently?]
Participation is valued

Participation is valued

Participation is valued through leadership from all parts and levels of the school, and its power in effecting school improvement acknowledged. As part of this,
  • questioning is valued and encouraged
  • innovation is seen as central to personal and professional growth


  • Core values of equity and democratic citizenship are explicit commitments

    Core values of equity and democratic citizenship are explicit commitments

    Aspirations to core values of equity and democratic citizenship are explicit commitments and their importance is recognized and shared by all. This means a commitment to:
  • inclusive participation, so that the voice of all is heard and valued and critical questions are asked systematically and continually about who has fewer opportunities, whether based on racial, sexual, cultural or other forms of discrimination that work against equity
  • holistic growth and well-being for all, anchoring distributed leadership in a deep and holistic understanding of human growth that frames learning


  • Culture is about the ideas and values that people share in an organization and which influence everyday behaviour. Some people might think that distributed leadership is wholly about changing structures, such as reducing hierarchy and implementing systems that spread responsibility. If distributed leadership is understood solely like this, however, the extent to which leadership can be distributed is limited.

    Key lever #3: Enabling institutional structures for DLE
    The view of DLE offered in Key lever 2 highlights the importance of cultivating cultural conditions which allow leadership practice to grow. Structural changes can work in tandem with such cultural changes to support this development. The third key lever focuses on the development of institutional structures that support leadership from across all parts of the organisation. This means taking steps to make changes that help to create enabling institutional structures.

    Institutional structures that enable DLE need to encourage inclusive involvement and maximum communication of ideas from all, by:

    spreading leadership opportunities beyond formal senior roles to enable different sources of expertise and perspectives to influence the organisation’s work, development and innovative change,
    facilitating flexible, collaborative working relationships across traditional boundaries and hierarchies,
    tending towards the creation of flatter hierarchies.

    Examples of change that helps create enabling institutional structures include:
    Spread leadership opportunities. Photo by   Brenda Clarke,
			(https://www.flickr.com/photos/brenda-starr/3523078291)

    Widening membership of committees, teams and working groups

    This includes enabling ad hoc working groups to be set up easily by staff and/or students that bring together different people relevant to an initiative, and creating forums through which ideas, research and learning can be shared

    [Tool #3: Who has access to enabling structures?]
    Collaborative working relationships (from http://123freevectors.deviantart.com/art/Polygon-Background-Vector-128847226)

    Allocating resources in ways that support DLE

    This includes allocating resources that help staff and students to develop capabilities in leadership, collaborative working and innovation and to try out innovative ideas
    Involve a range of people in developing and evaluating new practices (Photo by  Brenda Clarke,
https://www.flickr.com/photos/brenda-starr/5250044843/in/photostream/)

    Supporting formal and informal teacher and student leadership roles

    This includes giving more responsibilities and scope for initiative to middle leaders, and developing and recognising the role of teacher leaders and student leaders
    Key lever #4: An open social environment that supports DLE

    The types of relationship which characterise a school are a key factor in how well DLE works in practice. The fourth key lever is the development of an open social environment which supports DLE. This means being open in how you relate to people, recognising and valuing the contributions which everyone makes to achieving the purpose of the school and showing through your actions that the boundaries within the school (of hierarchy, departments and formal roles) are not rigid.

    An open social environment:

    Fosters respect for all

    Fosters respect for all

    Fosters respect for all, as people and for what each person uniquely brings, with people supporting each other in their learning and professional development.

    >Fosters co-creative and co-operative attitudes. Phot by  Nicolas Raymond, 
			  https://www.flickr.com/photos/82955120@N05/15358221063/in/photostream/

    Develops a sense of trust and belonging

    Develops deep-rooted relationships and a shared identification with the community of the school
    A social environment with fluid relationships helps to create the conditions in which people at different levels in the formal hierarchy can share ideas, give feedback to each other and take initiatives. In this way, leadership can arise from all parts of the organisation.

    >Fosters co-creative and co-operative attitudes

    Fosters co-creative and co-operative attitudes

    Fosters co-creative and co-operative attitudes, as well as confidence, independent-mindedness, autonomy and openness within agreed principles and shared goals

    [Tool #4: What kinds of relationships?]
    Flexible and open ways of working

    Develops flexible and open ways of working

    Has flexible and open ways of working that involve 'boundary spanning' across groups, functional divisions and departments
    Key lever #5: Evaluating and sharing the impact of DLE

    The final key lever in the development of DLE is the development of appropriate ways to evaluate and share the impact of DLE. Evaluation often focuses on the collation of numeric attainment results and the attempt to attribute such results to particular interventions. It is important that we do things in schools which impact positively on students' learning. However, it is not always easy to know which of the many things we do has had this positive impact. Numerical indicators are not the only nor necessarily always the best indicators for evaluation.

    Evaluation of DLE needs to:
    Be participatory

    Be participatory

    Evaluating distributed leadership for equity and learning needs to involve staff and students, but also other school stakeholders

    Be inclusive

    Focus on inclusiveness

    Monitor how far distributed leadership for equity and learning in practice is inclusive, so that inequalities can be tackled
    Examines the degrees of DLE and hierarchy

    Examine the degrees of DLE and hierarchy

    Recognise that developing DLE is a journey and that schools will have both hierarchy and open social relationships, so evaluation examines the degrees of DLE and hierarchy in a school

    [Tool #5: An evaluative framework]
    Flexible and open ways of working

    Prioritize holistic learning

    Monitor the learning DLE promotes, to make sure that DLE is fostering learning that is deep and holistic

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    © 2014 EPNoSL Project