distributive leadership for international school turnover

Distributive Leadership: Leading for Success and Sustainment

By Niamh Callanan, GEMS American Academy, Abu Dhabi

“In my old school we did….” “When I was in…. we did…” “Why are we doing this?”

Have you been in a meeting where statements like the above have been repeated throughout? Statements like these are regulars in the international school setting. So, how do we deal with them? Going further, how do we move from these situations where we are repeating the answers to these questions, re-iterating our school’s vision and reminding teachers of our goals, aims, mission and purpose? We build a culture, a culture of participation, a culture of growing leaders from within, a culture of independent, self-believing thinkers.

The International School Phenomena

International schools have seen steady and significant growth over the last decade. In 2006, Brummit’s future projections suggested that 11,000 international schools catering for 4.9 million students would be in place by 2020.

In our times, globalization and cosmopolitism are terms that speak to the intensification of border crossing, and in connection to education to the global conditions and possibilities that are directing change in learning and teachers. Much of this change demands a rethinking of the identities of the teacher and a re-envisioning of the work of teaching. (Harper & Dunkerly, 2013:279).

The international school setting brings together professionals from all walks of life, with diverse backgrounds and expertise. We have seen schools adapting different curriculums and teachers having to adapt to a curriculum that they may have never experienced. Leadership will require diverse types of expertise and forms of leadership flexible enough to meet changing challenges and new demands. There is a growing recognition that the old organizational structures of schooling simply do not fit the requirements of learning in the twenty-first century.

Distributed Leadership for Survival, Success and Sustainment

“Distributed leadership is about much more than just sharing out tasks rather it also embraces an approach that is shared in which the staff within the organization are authentically engaged and can influence the culture, philosophy and direction.”  (PriceWaterhouseCooper: 2007)

The research has shown that high-performing leadership teams are characterized by internal coherence and unity, a clear focus on high standards, two-way communication with internal and external stakeholders and a commitment to distributed leadership. Within every school there is a sleeping giant of teacher leadership, which can be a strong catalyst for making change. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]One of the main underlying principles of distributive leadership is trust[/inlinetweet], building relationships based on trust and respect.

Caravatti (2014) found during their study of international education that of the 1,358 teachers they interviewed, 83% of those teachers had temporary contracts. The transient nature of the school and staff turnover can be a challenge. Especially when one of the underlying values of distributive leadership is relationships and trust, it can prove difficult to build relationships with a high turnover of staff. Trust can take time, and with the international setting, sometimes time is not on our side to do this.

We must develop new ways of building relationships and earning trust at a faster pace than the norm.

“The basic idea of distributed leadership is not very complicated. In any organized system, people typically specialize or develop particular competencies. It is the ‘glue’ of a common task or goal – improvement of instruction – and a common frame of values for how to approach that task – culture – that keeps distributing leadership from becoming another version of loose coupling.” Elmore (2000)

To conclude with an overall sense of distributive leadership, the below quote is one of my favorites. How does this translate into education? When you walk into a school, it means you can ask any member of staff what they are doing and why. Everyone will give you the same answer- I am part of providing the best education for these students. Whether it is the security, the janitor, the teacher, cafeteria staff or the principal. There is a common goal and vision, and we all have our part to play.

“President John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time, in 1961. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA. The janitor replied, ‘I’m helping put a man on the moon!'”

distributive leadership

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Niamh began her career as a social care worker specializing with mental health and special needs. She completed her Post-graduate in Education and she has just completed her Masters in Educational Leadership and Administration. Niamh is going into her sixth year in International Education and currently resides in Abu Dhabi.

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