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Distributed Leadership Matters

Distributed Leadership Matters
Perspectives, Practicalities, and Potential

  • Alma Harris - Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff Metropolitan University, UK, Swansea University, UK, Swansea University, University of Bath, The University of Bath, University of Swansea, UK

December 2013 | 184 pages | Corwin

“Alma Harris is a world leading writer on the thinking and practice of distributed leadership. This is undoubtedly the best book that she or anyone has yet written on the subject.”
—Andy Hargreaves, Thomas More Brennan Chair in Education
Boston College

“Alma Harris captures the essential challenges facing today’s school and district leaders and summarizes, in precise and accessible language, important research-based lessons for practice. Her focus on building authentic relationships among all staff is both practical and a welcome antidote to an excessive focus on testing and standardization.”
—Karen Seashore, Professor
University of Minnesota

The benefits of distributed leadership are yours with this research-based change process.

Distributed leadership—engaging the many rather than the few in school improvement—has long been a promising theory. But it must be implemented effectively before educators and students can reap the rewards, including improved learner outcomes and stronger organizational performance.

Distributed Leadership Matters offers pragmatic approaches for realizing these benefits. First, Alma Harris shows why harnessing educators’ collective expertise is an improvement strategy worth adopting. Then she details the collaborative processes that make it happen. Insights include:

  • How to translate the research on distributed leadership into tangible results for your school
  • Methods for building the social capital necessary for sustainable institutional change
  • How to distribute leadership widely and wisely through professional collaboration

The old-fashioned “top-down” leadership style no longer works for today’s schools. Distributed Leadership Matters is a bold step into the future.

1. Leading Educational Change and Improvement
What Does Educational Change for Improvement Require?

2. Leading System Reform
What Are the Challenges of Reform at Scale?

3. Future Leaders
Why Distributed Leadership Is Needed More Than Ever in a Changing World

4. Distributed Leadership: The Facts
What We Know About Distributed Leadership and Improved Outcomes and Performance

5. Distributed Leadership: The Dark Side
How Distributed Leadership Can be Misused, Misrepresented, and Misconstrued

6. Distributed Leadership: Building Social Capital
How Distributed Leadership, in the Form of Professional Collaboration, Contributes to Building Social Capital for Organizational Improvement

7. Distributed Leadership: Professional Learning Communities
How Distributed Leadership, in the Form of Powerful Collaborative Teams, Contributes to Organizational Improvement

8. Distributed Leadership: Professional Learning with Impact
Leading Effective and Disciplined Professional Collaboration


"Leadership is a vision that is not held in the hands of one but in the eyes of all who are part of the system. This book allows us to see through those eyes and know what a collaborative unified environment does to make a school successful."

Tania E. Dymkowski, Instructional Coach K-8
HaysCISD. Buda, TX

"The book does make a unique contribution to the field of education because distributed leadership impacts leadership style and can guide leaders in moving away from traditional management techniques. Of great importance is the emphasis on the conscious and intentional application of strategies that reflect distributed leadership."

Kathleen Ellwood, Assistant Principal
Irvington School, Portland, OR

"This is a manageable amount of information to read in a shorter period of time with a high quality of take away ideas for implementation. Will they find the material useful? Yes. It gives insightful examples and information about what DL is and is not and the benefit of DL, particularly in PLC’s.

The author provides an eclectic mix of current research to define and convince readers/educators that distributed leadership is an effective method to raise student achievement levels in innovative ways. The vehicle for this method is the structure and facilitation of PLC’s. The author boldly provides a platform for difficult conversations regarding the challenges of this type of leadership that can impede the process and student achievement. The process provides critical information regarding the pros and cons of DL to help those questioning this methodology to analyze the information in order to make the most informed decision regarding implementation in schools. The author has boldly discussed the often unspoken concerns when the characteristics of effective leadership unravel into ineffective practice."

Laura Linde, Elementary/Mentor/Field Experience Coordinator
Mankato Area Public Schools, North Mankato, MN

"In addition to its readable and readily accessible style, this book’s strengths lie in the discussion of the nature of distributed leadership, including the difficulties inherent in this form of leadership practice; the discussion around the relationship between distributed leadership, social capital and professional learning communities; and the discussion about building and facilitating strong collaborative teams."

Dr. Dan Archer, Independent Education Consultant
Institute of Education, University of London

"Certainly one of the most eminent scholars in the area of distributed leadership in schools, Alma Harris argues persuasively in her book that distributed leadership, in the form of collective expertise, carefully constructed through professional collaboration, can positively influence learning and teaching in schools.  Drawing upon research findings and carefully written so that readers can follow her arguments systematically, this book is a valuable resource to readers hoping to find a reliable guide to link theories in distributed leadership to practices in schools."

Dr. Pak Tee Ng, Associate Dean
National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Republic of Singapore

"Distributed Leadership signifies the cutting-edge development in the Theory Movement in understanding educational leadership, whereas ‘professional learning community’ is the most recent strand in understanding educational organizations. The book has successfully blended both concepts together and implied that they are the sides of a coin. Most theorists will make use of the full length of a book to delineate about positive and bright sides of theories. It is this book which also expounds on the negative and dark sides of distributed leadership. It is this approach, as in Chinese philosophy, that we call it “Yin and Yang”. The bright and dark sides are actually complementary, not opposing, forces, interacting to form a whole greater than either separate part; in effect, a dynamic system. The book is a must for most academics, researchers, policy makers, school practitioners and students of educational leadership, organizational study and school improvement."

Nicholas Sun-Keung Pang, Professor and Chairman
Department of Educational Administration and Policy, The Chinese University of Hong Kong

"Alma Harris is a world leading writer on the thinking and practice of distributed leadership. This is undoubtedly the best book that she or anyone has yet written on the subject. Harris's view that distributed leadership is disciplined and collaborative counters critics who complain about the fuzziness of the idea. If you want a book that gives you an authoritative and accessible grounding, that sets out a strategy and a methodology, and that alerts you to the dark arts of distributed leadership as well as its payoffs when it is properly done, this is absolutely the book for you."

Andy Hargreaves, Brennan Chair in Education
Boston College

"Distributed Leadership Matters is an outstanding contribution to the literature on real and enduring school improvement!  The writing sparkles with inspirational examples of real-world leadership transformations that have benefitted staff and students alike. The research base is capacious and demonstrates the author’s encyclopedic knowledge of school improvement and effectiveness from all around the world.  Especially welcome is the crucial acknowledgement that distributed leadership can be abused and problematic if implemented in rushed mandates, autocratic rule, or mindless compliance.  Here is a volume that will help us all to raise achievement with dignity. Here is a book that every educator can use to rally reluctant faculty, to focus on the instructional core, and to lift achievement. Distributed Leadership Matters is indispensable reading for every educator!"

Dennis Shirley, Professor of Education
Lynch School of Education, Boston College

"Alma Harris captures the essential challenges facing today’s school and district leaders and summarizes, in precise and accessible language, important research-based lessons for practice. Her focus on building authentic relationships among all staff that will increase school effectiveness is both practical and a welcome antidote to an excessive focus on testing and standardization."

Karen Seashore

does not meet course outcomes

Dr Marilyn Meell
College Of Education, Concordia University
July 31, 2014
Key features

1. Even though the theory of distributed leadership is now well known and firmly established in the minds of those who think and write about leadership the important matter of how to make it happen is less well traversed territory. Accounts of distributed school leadership still tend towards theory, debate, discussion, ideological bias and analysis rather than practical application.

This book makes a direct contribution between theory and practice. It argues that distributed leadership is not just a powerful analytical frame or the latest leadership theory but it is also a leadership approach that, if properly constructed and enacted in schools and districts, can result in better learner outcomes. The book proposes, that under the right conditions, distributed leadership can be a positive influence on organizational change and improvement.

2. Throughout this book there are questions or points to consider that aim to do two things; firstly to prompt focused reflection and secondly, to highlight and reinforce the central argument and themes that run throughout the book.

3. The last chapter is a deliberate departure from other chapters in the book as it provides a practical framework aimed at supporting professional collaboration in districts and schools.

4. This book argues that it is the practice of leadership that is most important if the goal, in schools and districts, is to secure better instruction and improved learner outcomes. This book anchors distributed leadership in the core work of instruction and argues that to be most effective, leadership distribution has to be first and foremost focused upon improving learner outcomes.

For instructors

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