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.
Five key levers work together to support the development of distributed leadership for equity and learning in action
Each of the five key levers links to a tool which a possible starting point for policy-makers and school leaders to begin or continue dialogue around DLE
and to translate this dialogue into action which transforms leadership and learning in schools.
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.
Policy makers have a key role to play in facilitating a shared understanding of DLE.
This understanding could arise from a briefing session, where headteachers and other senior leaders are told what DLE is.
It is more effective if senior leaders and others are enabled to develop their own understanding of DLE through discourse and debate.
The initiation and facilitation of such a forum is itself an example of DLE practice, where professionals are given the opportunity, space and guidance to
collaborate to extend their professional understanding of DLE.
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:
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.
Some people might think that DLE is wholly about changing structures, such as reducing hierarchy and implementing systems that spread responsibility.
If DLE is understood solely like this, however, the extent to which leadership can be distributed is limited.
In a participatory culture for DLE:
DLE needs to be continually cultivated and nurtured in supportive ideas and values that people genuinely share and are committed to.
Looking at it in this way, developing, DLE is rooted in a greater understanding of how things get done, how the various interactions between people bring about an end result
and what values are most important in distributing leadership in inclusive ways that benefit learning.
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 include roles, procedures and working arrangements (such as teams and committees),
as well as allocation of resources and the opportunities offered for professional development and training.
These can have a powerful impact on how people connect and work with one another.
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:
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 is one in which people are valued for what they individually bring to the work of the organisation,
and in which positive relationships between people across status and other organisational boundaries are readily established to initiate and develop change.
This is nourished and sustained by the culture and institutional structures in Key Levers 2 and 3, and creates the conditions for DLE activity.
An open social environment:
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.
To understand the impact of DLE we need to consider how we conceptualise the the term 'evaluate'.
Evaluation of DLE needs to:
This term needs to describe a process in which we:
clarify what we are trying to achieve e.g. a participatory culture, enabling institutional structures and an open social environment to support DLE,
identify success indicators which will help us to see if these things are happening,
use these indicators to support the development of illuminative data gathering and ways of analysing these data,
interpret what is learned from these practices to judge the degree to which we have achieved our stated aims,
develop ways of sharing what we have learned with all stakeholders.