Distributed Leadership by James Spillane

Distributed Leadership by James Spillane.  The Educational Forum, vol 69, Winter 2005, pp 143-150.

Stories of leadership successes follow a familiar structure: A charismatic leader, often the CEO or school principal, takes over a struggling school, establishing new goals and expectations and challenging business as usual within the organization.  This leader creates new organizational routines and structures that with time transform the school’s culture, contributing in turn to greater teacher satisfaction, higher teacher expectations for students, and improved student achievement.


School Principals, or any other leader, do not single-handedly lead schools to greatness.

  • It is often who they bring into their leadership committees that determine greatness

These stories dwell on the “what” of leadership (structures, functions, routines and roles) rather than the “how” of school leadership (daily performance of leadership routines, functions and structures).

  • Do not only focus on what people do, but how they do these things, how it impacts the school, and why.

Putting Leadership Practice Center Stage

Distributed leadership is about leadership practice rather than leaders or their roles, functions, routines or structures.  Leadership practice is viewed as a product of the interactions of school leaders, followers and their situation.

  • Distributed leadership is interactions between people and their situations.
  • Situations define leadership practice by interactions with leaders and followers.

People and Practice

The responsibility for leadership functions typically are distributed between 3 to 7 people.  The principal emphasizes goals and standards, coordinators identifies problems in instruction, teachers describes implementation of interventions.

  • All roles are important and necessary to properly address issues that occur.
  • Each leader needs to hear/understand concerns from other members.
  • Individuals play off one another.

Leadership five-week assessment

  • Coordinator creates student assessment instruction.
  • Teacher administers the assessment.
  • Coordinator scores and analyzes results.
  • Principal and Coordinator meet to discuss results.
  • Coordinator compiles resources and strategies to assist in problem areas.
  • Coordinator reports results of assessment to teachers via meetings.
  • Coordinator, Principal and Teachers interpret assessment results to identify instructional strategies to address problem areas

People, Place and Practice

  1. Ostensive aspect refers to the routine in principle
  2. Performance aspect refers to routine in practice in specific places at specific times.
  • Most of the 5 week assessment is Ostensive, reporting student assessment results to teachers is Performance
  • Assessments of student is Ostensive, how districts analyze results and implement intervetions is Performance

Situation does not simply affect what school leaders do as an independent, external variable- it defines leadership practice in interaction with leaders and followers.  Aspects of the situation can either enable or constrain practice, while practice can transform the situation.

  • How leadership is distributed is what is important, each member needs to interact and be understood together in order to benefit the whole.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s