Performance Improvement Through Distributed Leadership
Managing personnel in a public administration context can be particularly challenging given the various economic, political and bureaucratic pressures which are often attendant to work in the public sector. These challenges are magnified when that public administration context is a school. Public schools are typically beset by a range of personnel obstacles that are unique to the field and which render the implementation of effective Human Resource strategies particularly complex. Indeed, the pressing realities of public education have to an extent created a context in which effective HR strategies have been relegated behind the often more apparent demands of parental contentment, administrative regulation and economic limitation. However, American public education is today suffering, as are many of the professionals who work within this context, due to a decline in quality and a diminishing experience as employees. This calls for a strategic change in HR orientation. The research and discussion conducted hereafter will concern an elementary school local to my region and many of the details will proceed from the school's growing emphasis on an HR strategy called distributive leadership.
As we enter into this discussion, it is important to recognize that the solution proposed in distributed leadership, which ventures to extend opportunities for curricular design and implementation contribution to members of an institution's personnel at every level, is a controversial one. The literature consulted here below will approach a wide array of supporters for distributed leadership, a number of detractors and a host of parties dedicated to uncovering its practical value from a Human Resources standpoint.
The discussion first proceeds with an assessment of the realities facing personnel in the selected elementary schools and a discussion on the challenges to effective performance valuation. In this urban elementary school, there is a considerable degree of pressure to improve student performance, to reduce instructor turnover and to improve on overall image in the community, requiring a model for transformational change which can set about meeting improvements according to root problems. Therefore, the application of the distributed leadership approach can be considered an innovative way to go about comprehensively addressing the full range of the school's challenges.
In the case of a school with such challenges as those facing Public Elementary (as it will be called here throughout), research suggests "a system-wide initiative, involving academic and administrative units . . . undertaking their own strategic positions processes and building on comparative advantages consistent with criteria" set in advance of this prodigious undertaking. (Flash et al., 2) The primary goal of the change in leadership approaches will be to improve classroom performance results by increasing cultural inclusiveness within the classroom, to assimilate new information perspectives with traditional educational modes and to increase the human base from which such educational programming is derived. This is to say that at Public Elementary, the cultural needs of the school are diverse, and would therefore be intuitively better served by a greater diversity and distribution in the foundation of curricular design, implementation and grading assessment.
As is indicated by above explored research considerations, the distribution of leadership in a curricular design strategy will help both the student and the teacher to identify individual learning styles and to direct them constructively. This means a greater degree of HR support for this function amongst instructors. For Public Elementary, the widened perspective and diversified modes of instruction should not only improve student performance, but should provide a more positive context into which to recruit and retain teachers, a crucial pair of functions for the HR department. With the school's interest in keeping effective long-term teachers on board, the construction of a program which is not only inherently progressive but which provides the instructor with a powerful opportunity to contribute to crucial aspects of classroom standardization should help to undo many of the deterrents to long-term commitment by otherwise valuable teachers.
Indeed, as the diversity of the city-bound Public Elementary is a key issue, there is a distinct value to creating more democratized settings through which those at the field level, as it were, are relevant to the process of developing field programs, goals and ways of viewing performance. As we have established throughout this research examination, the traditional model in which the central administration is the sole provider of leadership and the channel through which schools receive rather than exchange ideas is one that inhibits the opportunity for cultural plurality or a plurality of engaged learning styles. Today, Human Resource experts are increasingly recognizing the advantages of channeling leadership opportunities through personnel at every level both as a mode to improvement of organizational culture and as a mode to improvement of student outcomes. This is to indicate, in one regard, that leadership goals amongst teachers especially should be geared toward the contribution to the collective leadership discourse of insight into individualizing learning strategies especially as these are impacted by cultural diversity matters.
Evidence as to the value of the distributed leadership approach is still limited based on a modest body of existing research. However, that research which does exist suggests this to be a very promising HR orientation, particularly well-suited to the realities of public eductation. As Lumby (2003) notes, there are notable connections between the adoption of this leadership approach and a positive impact on the morale and capacity of those involved. According to Lumby, it may be accurate to state that an evolution in our appreciation for classroom level ingenuity inherently incites the need for a more distributed approach. As his research claims, "leadership is embedded in the activities of staff and students, including delegated management, and can be understood to be both distributed and systemic." (Lumby, 2003; p. 283) This is to indicate the natural process of educational development will require this type of dynamic contribution as well as an effective HR framework within which these contributions can ultimately be made.
Moreover, for educators, the heightened emphasis on the opportunity for contribution at the highest levels can improve motivation and individual ingenuity. To this end, according to a study by Harris (2004), there is cause to infer that the outcome of this leadership approach will be to improve the quality of a school overall. Accordingly, the author notes that "distributed forms of leadership can assist capacity building within schools which contributes to school improvement." (Harris, 11) For teachers and other staff members who are given the opportunity to offer their skills at the leadership level, the framework will accommodate greater innovation, personal stake and perspective variance. All of these may be argued to promote the advancement of school quality as an experience for both student and educator. Still, it must be acknowledged that the observation produced by the article in question is indirect in its connection to school improvement. Even as Harris notes in resolution of the study's findings, "further research is needed to confirm a relationship between distributed forms of leadership and improved student learning outcomes." (Harris, 11)
This is a consistently recognized outcome through much of the literature which we have encountered, which while it is generally positive in its contention that the mode of HR orientation has achieved positive ends for those involved at all levels, their still remain intermediary relationships necessitating this assumption. Empirical indications of the direct connection between the improvement in learning curves, student performance, testing scores or other such student outcome matrices have not been as easy to come by.
In spite of this, support for distributive leadership is very high, particularly given its capacity to improve performance through increased morale. In many ways, the emergence of distributed leadership represents nothing less than a paradigm shift in the way that school improvements are sought. To this extent, Gronn (2002) sites as crucial to the process "concertive action in which a key defining criterion is conjoint agency." (Gronn, 2002; p. 423) The author produces a support for distributed leadership which is highly dependent upon the interactive compatibility forged by such participants as teacher groups, principals and administrative personnel, founded with no focus on hierarchy.
The study by MacBeath (2005) further supports the need for intelligent nuance, focused on the ability of parties within an institution to reach compatibility on various leadership issues. Breaking down distributed leadership into 'six models' corresponding to stages of need, the author shows that the implementation of distributed leadership can exist across a spectrum of degrees. He finds that "these six models from 'formal' to 'cultural' distribution may, it is argued, be seen as a developmental sequence, adapted to the context and stage of development of a school." (MacBeath, 2005; p. 349)
Support for distributed leadership is frequently understood in this way, with adaptations and contextualization playing a significant part in the endorsing the likely success of this way of transformation. This is to note that a significant role will be played by Human Resources in at least assuring that the nature of the implemented leadership changes are tailored to needs and cultural realities specific to the institution.…