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Distributive leadership – building capacity and community voice

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Distributive leadership – building capacity and community voice

This is an edited version of a case study originally published in the 2017 Excellence in Professional Practice Conference Case studies of practice book.

The distributive leadership model at Bribie Island State School (BISS), Queensland, is at the heart of a school culture that not only builds teacher leadership capacity but also increases community voice.

In recent years much work has been done to embed a clear school-wide pedagogical framework aligned with The Art and Science of Teaching (Marzano, 2007). Establishing this framework as a norm for school processes has grown shared language and priorities.

In complex organisations like schools, leadership change is inevitable and occurs on a regular basis. Such changes at our site cast light on a need to widen our leadership paradigm and build capacity within our organisation. We recognised the need for a collective responsibility for our students and our school. Actions taken included:

  • identifying key staff and providing opportunities for staff to develop and lead programs across the school;
  • providing release for staff to advance these projects and share with their colleagues;
  • expanding upon student-based interest areas and providing a wide range of opportunities to address these;
  • engaging teaching staff in leading programs bringing a ‘real perspective’ to their implementation;
  • developing staff knowledge in key areas; and,
  • developing a culture of mentoring and trust.

The Leadership Team (Principal, Deputy, Head of Curriculum, Head of Special Education Services, Guidance Officer, Master Teacher, Support Teacher Literacy and Numeracy, and Business Services Manager) act as instructional leaders and facilitators of staff learning focusing on the following key elements:

  • prioritisation;
  • research-based practice;
  • alignment of curriculum;
  • instruction and assessment; and,
  • data analysis and promoting a culture of continuous learning.

Each member of the Leadership Team is responsible for the line management of various programs and committees. Teacher leadership roles include Lead Learning Managers (LLMs), committee chairpersons, mentors, Lead Teachers and facilitators of professional learning. Teacher leaders are supported by the Leadership Team through coaching relationships, and observation and feedback protocols.

All teachers are encouraged to take on leadership roles, based on their aspirations, interests or skills. This Distributive Leadership model has been in operation since 2014. We have trialled, reflected upon and grown the initiative over time.

Examples of practice include teacher leaders presenting weekly after-school professional development. These sessions focus on sharing examples of practice, school-based programs and resources to support student outcomes. Lead Learning Managers (LLMs) act as key point of contact for the Professional Learning Communities (our year level teams, known as PLCs). They ensure there is a shared responsibility for improved student outcomes and a balance of roles and responsibilities for PLC members. LLMs participate in data analysis and lead PLC discussion based on results, creating and monitoring learning goals for the year level. They lead the year level PLC to engage in evidence-based, best practice, resulting in collective efficacy. Lead Teachers take responsibility for the creation and implementation of school initiatives. Release time is provided for Lead Teachers to work on prioritised school programs.

Distributive Leadership involves mobilising leadership expertise at all levels of the school in order to generate more opportunities for change and to build the capacity for improvement. (Harris, 2014). Roland Barth (2006) stated that ‘A true mark of a leader is not how many followers one begets but how many leaders.’

At BISS, we are mobilising teacher leaders through formal and informal leadership roles. Instructional Leadership at BISS (a school policy document) describes how the principal exercises instructional leadership by facilitating teacher learning. Based upon Barth’s (2006) notion of collegiality for improvement, BISS has adopted four aspects of teacher collegiality:

  • talking together about students;
  • developing curriculum together;
  • observing one another; and,
  • teaching one another.

At BISS we recognise that staff have extensive and diverse areas of passion and expertise. We commit to the development of these future leaders through a culture of collective efficacy and distributive leadership. Professor John Hattie (Fisher, Frey & Hattie, 2016) ranks collective efficacy as the number one factor influencing student achievement, with an effect size of 1.57. Articulating and embedding a clear and focused Explicit Improvement Agenda for the school has led to shared goals and increased opportunities for teacher leaders to emerge.

Building a culture of collegiality has strengthened our leadership model and seen the emergence of many teacher leaders across the school. Our leadership model serves to strengthen a culture that promotes learning, data analysis and effective pedagogical strategies all while building an expert teaching team.

Under the BISS distributive leadership model we have seen an increase in class teachers taking on leadership roles across the school in recent years, from 10 teacher leaders in 2014 to 12 in 2015, and 19 teacher leaders in 2016 (76 per cent of teaching staff).

The Department of Education and Training Queensland School Opinion Survey for Staff includes a group of items related to building teacher capability. These include: This school asks for my input; This school encourages me to provide constructive feedback; This school encourages me to take part in professional development activities; This school encourages me to take responsibility for my work; This school encourages me to undertake leadership roles; and, This school encourages coaching and mentoring activities. At BISS, there has been a growth trend in agreement with these statements since the commencement of the distributive leadership model in 2014. The number of A and B Academic Achievement Ratings awarded (P-6 in all subjects) have also increased during the life of the project.

NAPLAN effective size gain (relative to the nation) shows a significant increase in positive effect from 2014-16. Compared to Queensland state schools, BISS demonstrated higher effect size gains in all areas of NAPLAN Year 3 (2014) to Year 5 (2016).

Bribie’s distributive leadership model has been recognised as an example of best practice through Education Queensland’s Showcase Awards for Excellence. The school was named State Finalist for Leadership Team of the Year in 2015 and Principal of the Year in 2016.

Increasing teacher leadership capacity has also seen a range of teacher-led curriculum programs emerge in recent years. School-based curriculum and pedagogy initiatives led by teacher leaders include Read It, Speak It, Write It (Early Years Literacy), Growth Mindset Project, Vocab and Spelling Project, Oral Language Project, and a Reading Program.

Over the last three years we have seen a significant increase in the number of teachers taking on leadership roles and responsibilities within the school. We have seen increased staff engagement in curriculum and extra curriculum projects. Staff willingness to share practice has increased significantly, with class teachers regularly sharing practice via staff meetings, resource sharing, professional development and collaborative planning.

Mobilising teacher leaders has resulted in enhanced collegiality and professional learning opportunities across the school. A growth mindset culture is developing within the school as the school community assumes a collective responsibility for student outcomes. The success of this project can be attributed to: Staff commitment to continual learning and improvement; School commitment to listening to the student, staff and community voice, and putting effort into meeting the needs of our school community; The School Administration Team valuing the diverse areas of passion and expertise that exist within the school community; A culture of collegiate sharing (including observation and feedback protocols); Collective efficacy – a shared belief that if we work together, and do the ‘right work’ as decided upon collectively we will improve student outcomes.

This is an edited version of a case study originally published in the 2017 Excellence in Professional Practice Conference Case studies of practice book.

References and further reading

Barth, R. (2006) Improving Relationships within the School House. Educational Leadership 63(6), 8.

Fisher, D., Frey, N., & Hattie, J. (2016). Visible learning for literacy. California: Corwin.

Harrison, C., & Killion, J. (2007). Ten roles for teacher leaders. Educational Leadership, 65(1), 74.

Harris, A. (2014) Distributed Leadership. Teacher. Retrieved from www.teachermagazine.com.au/articles/distributed-leadership

Killian, S. (Jan.18, 2017) Hattie Effect Size 2016 Update. Retrieved March 2017 from www.evidencebasedteaching.org.au

Marzano, R. (2007) The Art and Science of Teaching. Heatherton, VIC. Hawker Brownlow Education.

As a school leader, think about individual staff members – what are their passions and expertise? Are you making the best use of the skills and knowledge they have? What opportunities do you provide for staff collaboration and sharing of expertise?

As a teacher, how willing are you to share your resources and planning with colleagues? Think about an area of your practice that you find particularly challenging – who could you approach for support and guidance?

Zena 05 December 2017

I have always understood PLC/PLTs to be spontaneous communities formed and united by a shared challenge of practice. There appears to be an increasing shift in school leadership teams to implement these as structural components of school planning. By doing this it removes the intrinsic feature of teacher independence, subverting their fundamental purpose and nature. Wondering how do others perceive this issue?

Leanne 05 December 2017

@ Zena - I think perhaps the interpretation of the purpose and structures of PLC/PLTs depends on whose theory you are referencing.  If the basis of PLCs is collective experience and knowledge would there not be room for different models of implementation within a school?  DuFour and DuFour provide an explicit model that is systems-based and implemented by the school leadership team as a school improvement strategy. We have applied DuFour & DuFour’s model of PLCs across the past couple of years to effectively plan for and respond to student data and problems of practice yet at other times we have had teams come together spontaneously an a cycle of inquiry to pursue solutions to other problems of practice (the model you describe in your comment.)

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