Achieving More, Together

Improve school and student outcomes through distributed leadership.


July 2020, Volume 43, Issue 11

Distributed leadership is more complicated than just assigning responsibilities. To be successful, distributed leadership should take “flexible approaches to school organization, management, and operations,” according to a toolkit from New Leaders, “Achieving More, Together: Improving School and Student Outcomes via Distributed Leadership.”

New Leaders identified several benefits of distributed leadership, rating the evidence behind them from “strong” to “promising.”

Promotes collaboration (strong). In schools where leadership is distributed effectively, there is greater collaboration among staff members and more collaborative team problem-solving and decision-making.

Fosters teacher leadership (strong). Distributed leadership increases teachers’ voice in shaping school practices and provides exceptional teachers with opportunities to expand their reach, positively influence instruction, and advance in their careers.

Supports instructional improvement (moderate). In schools where leadership is widely distributed, teachers follow practices that support instructional improvement, such as engaging in candid conversations about change and seeking feedback from instructional leaders.

Increases teacher job satisfaction and fosters stronger organizational commitment (promising). Teachers express greater job satisfaction when they work in schools where leadership is distributed, and they are more willing to make altruistic contributions to the school.

Contributes to increased student achievement (promising). Two studies show that distributing leadership across multiple stakeholders correlates to greater student achievement.

6 Key Elements

The toolkit identifies six common characteristics of effective distributed leadership models:

  1. An effective principal. This is an individual with positional and relational authority who’s committed to fostering leadership across the school and has the necessary mindset, knowledge, skills, and supports to do so.
  2. Collaborative learning, problem-solving, and decision-​making. School personnel who don’t hold leadership positions help establish a shared understanding of the school’s needs, deliberating on solutions and establishing shared goals.
  3. Strategic opportunities for engagement. Creating and supporting leadership teams, PLCs, councils, and other structures for teachers, students, parents, and other community members promotes collaborative learning, problem-solving, decision-​making, and capacity-building.
  4. Empowerment. Staff and community members feel empowered to exercise leadership. Principals encourage and support individuals—especially teacher leaders—to take on new responsibilities and roles.
  5. A culture of trust. Individuals outside traditional leadership have opportunities to contribute and trust that their input and contributions will be respected and valued.
  6. Capacity-building. Members of the school community grow their practice and strengthen the school’s capacity for improvement. In successful distributed leadership approaches, principals focus on capacity-​building and sustainability.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to instructional leadership, but these findings can offer principals a place to start when tailoring an instructional leadership model to their school’s unique needs.

Download the full toolkit and read success vignettes.


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