Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Distributed Leadership Theory for Investigating Teacher Librarian Leadership

Academic journal article School Libraries Worldwide

Distributed Leadership Theory for Investigating Teacher Librarian Leadership

Article excerpt

Introduction

The complex technological environment of 21st century schools and the new leadership capacities that accompany it have signified a paradigm shift in leadership (Anderson & Dexter, 2005; Bush, 2013; Gronn, 2008; Harris, 2010; Kowch, 2009). As the knowledge, skills, and abilities required of leaders increase in complexity, there has been a necessitated shift away from the one sole leader towards models of shared leadership, where the functions of technology leadership in schools will need to be shared, or distributed, across a group of staff members to collectively employ an adequate level of expertise (Anderson & Dexter, 2005; Bennett, 2008; Gronn, 2002; Harris & Spillane, 2008; Hulpia, Devos, Rosseel, & Vlerick, 2012; Kowch, 2009; Tan, 2011). In recent years distributed leadership has gained prominence in countries across the world as a model of shared leadership (e.g. Bolden, 2011; Bush & Glover, 2013; Duif et al., 2013; Harris, 2012; Mullick, Sharma, & Deppeler, 2013; Tian, Risku, & Collin, 2015; Torrence, 2013; Williams, 2011). Leadership, from the distributed perspective, is viewed as an "emergent property of a group or network of interacting individuals" that suggests an "openness of the boundaries of leadership" and in which "varieties of expertise are distributed across the many, not the few" (Bennett, Harvey, Wise, Woods, 2003, p. 7). For example, in schools, technology leadership consists of a shared set of responsibilities that may be distributed among the principal, technology specialist, teacher librarian, and other teacher leaders. Distributed leadership theory promotes this conjoint agency where individuals collaborate and bring ideas and expertise together so that their collective action achieves more than their individual actions.

Grover and Glazier (1986) define the purpose of a theory as "to explain and predict relationships among phenomena, to give the practitioner an understanding of specific relationships, and to guide research" (p. 230) and in this case the observed interactive phenomena is leadership practice. Leadership refers to "activities tied to the core work of the organization that are designed by organizational members to influence motivation, knowledge, affect or practices of other organizational members or that are understood by organizational members as intended to influence their motivation, knowledge, affect, or practices" (Spillane, 2006, pp. 11-12). This perspective asserts that leadership is about more than just people in formal leadership positions and attempts to acknowledge all, formal or informal, who participate in leadership practice (Spillane, 2006). These informal leaders are teacher leaders. Teacher leaders are those teachers that assume informal and formal leadership responsibilities outside the classroom, create a participatory environment where all learn from each other, and engage with others in working together for student learning (Barth, 2001; Elmore, 2000; Harris & Muijs, 2005; Katzenmeyer & Moller, 2009; Spillane et al., 2002; York-Barr & Duke, 2004). Teacher leadership goes beyond the scope of the teacher leading students in a classroom; teachers are empowered within a culture of learning, taking authority from pedagogical expertise, and focusing on improving instruction and student learning (Murphy, 2007; Smylie, Conley, & Marks, 2002; York-Barr & Duke, 2004). Based on this definition, the leadership practices of teacher librarians are essentially those of teacher leaders (Johnston, 2012). Distributed leadership provides a solid theoretical foundation for research on leadership practices within a school and can illuminate the multiple dimensions of leadership that occur in a school, including those of teacher librarians.

Distributed Leadership Theory

For the past several decades the focus of leadership research has centered on the individual stand- alone formal leader, yet in recent years the concept of shared, dispersed, or distributed leadership has emerged and received increased research attention (Gronn, 2002a; Spillane, 2006; Torrance, 2013; Tian et al. …

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