Fragments of Reality
Distributed leadership is important for an effective educational management
Published : Monday, 5 March, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 528
John Maxwell, a writer of many books on Leadership wrote, "Leaders become great not because of their power, but, because of their ability to empower others." But how a leader empowers others in education? I suggest that the pathway for such empowerment is through the distributed leadership.
Distributed leadership is a model where multiple leaders with shared responsibilities play their part in leadership roles. In an educational setting, teacher, support staff, manager, secretary, minister and even learners themselves can play their part. In this model, there is no powerful figurehead. Research suggests that the leadership within the context of education means getting people on board to solve common problem and working towards a shared vision.
Bolman and Deal, in their book, 'Reframing organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership' observed that we 'focus too much on the actors and too little on the stage on which they play their parts.' Actors such as ministers, teachers and principals are needed but actors need to understand their stage upon which they play their parts. Distributed leadership can be a norm for the stage differentiation. One also should realise that distributed leadership is not only a role-based functions, but also focuses on building a network of relationships. It is more interaction than action.
As an example, teachers are important leaders within the context of distributed leadership. Merideth, in his book 'Leadership Strategies for Teachers', argues that all teachers should be leaders and performed a model based role known as REACH model, where R implies Risk taking, E implies Effectiveness, A implies Autonomy, C implies collegiality and H implies Honour.
Daniel Goleman, in his essay 'The Focused Leader' published in the Harvard Business Review, suggests that "A primary task of leadership is to direct attention. To do so, leaders must learn to focus their own attention. When we speak about being focused, we commonly mean thinking about one thing while filtering out distractions. But a wealth of recent research in neuroscience shows that we focus in many ways, for different purposes, drawing on different neural pathways -- some of which work in concert, while others tend to stand in opposition." Though in some instances focused leader become successful, research suggests that distributed leadership is more effective in motivating teachers and student achievement than a focused leadership.
Managing an education system requires a strategic vision. But this vision involves establishing a shared purpose and work towards a common goal. Leaders need to set the right priorities for learners. This may require resolving differentiation. As an example, an educational establishment may decide to setup right priorities for their institution. This requires regular auditing of the existing system in place. The priority could be to reveal learners standard of literacy and numeracy.
If it reveals an under achievement, then some educational manager might blame parents or community, but an effective leader does not tolerate such excuse rather work towards building confidence and self belief among their students who may think of themselves as failures. Implementation of such vision requires a distributed leadership because different organisations need to be involved in order get a fruitful outcome.
In his book, 'Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action' Simon Sinek argues that there are two ways to influence human behaviour: manipulation or inspiration. A common manipulation in teaching is to instil fear among others. Advice such as, if a student does not go to a coaching centre, then he or she might fail in examination, can instil fear. Fear is widely used to control behaviour in some South Asian education system including Bangladesh. Manipulative leadership also gets involved in leaking a question paper before examination. If a learning environment is fear driven, then manipulative leadership will thrive, which is harmful for an education system.
On the other end, inspirational leaders, develop some common goal for students for their achievement and work towards it. If a student needs extra support for their education, then an inspirational leader's priority would be to provide extra support to student in school after school hour.
Within the context of distributed leadership, one needs to understand the hierarchy of leadership. It is not the straightforward principle of 'expect and inspect' rather based on how one relate to others. Hersey and Blanchard, in their book 'Management of Organization Behaviour: Utilizing Human Resources' suggest that a leader move through four stages: telling, selling, participating and delegating. In first stage leaders tell people what, when and where to do things. In second stage leaders provide information and direction. On the third stage, leaders focus more on the relationship. They work with the team and share decision making responsibilities. In the fourth stage, leaders take on a monitoring role and pass on responsibility to others.
Within the distributed leadership these stages can be followed through different sections of an organisation. In order to implement the distributed leadership, structural barrier needs to be overcome. Because Lumby in his research titled 'Distributed Leadership: The uses and abuses of Power" found that the effect of such leadership is to maintain the power status quo. So, leaders need to strike a balance in their approach to change. Fullan, in his book 'The Six Secrets of Change: What the Best Leaders Do to Help Their Organizations Survive and Thrive' suggests this as 'too tight-too loose dilemma.
Effective educational leadership operates at all levels and is about shared vision and securing improvement. It might be effective if a leader understands where possible traps or threats are. Niccolo Machiavelli, in his book 'The Prince' wrote, 'The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognise traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.' This implies that a leader need to be a fox most of the time and a lion occasionally if he is to survive. An educational leader should not be deluded or allow others to mislead him with flattery. He must recognise the reality and act accordingly. Only then he would be able to deal with present threats or traps effectively and plan for the future. Our Education Minister should recognise this.
Dr Kanan Purkayastha is an Environmental Advisor, Teacher and Writer based in UK