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School of Education and Social Policy

The Distributed Leadership Study

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The Distributed Leadership Study at Northwestern University is a collection of research projects that use the distributed perspective as a lens to examine leadership practice in urban K-12 schools.

The Distributed Leadership Study research team is working to change how researchers, developers, practitioners, and policy-makers think about school leadership and management. Over the last decade, the Distributed Leadership Studies (DLS) have been developing a new framework that emphasizes the distributive nature of school leadership and management practice. The goal of developing this distributed perspective is to cultivate knowledge about leading and managing, especially knowledge for practice – knowledge of the how of leading and managing.

A distributed perspective is not a blueprint for leading and managing, but rather a framework for researchers and practitioners to use in diagnosing the practice of leading and managing and designing for improvement. Drawing on theoretical and empirical work in distributed cognition and socio-cultural activity theory, our distributed perspective for examining school leadership and management involves two aspects – principal plus and practice.

The principal plus aspect acknowledges that the work of leading and managing schools involves multiple individuals – not just those with formally designated leadership and management positions but also individuals without such designations. In our empirical work, we attempt to focus not only on formally designated leaders but also on teacher-leaders and others who take responsibility for the work of leading and managing.

The practice aspect under the distributed perspective is framed as a product of the interactions of school leaders, followers, and aspects of their situation. Thus, we view leading and managing in the schoolhouse as stretched over the work of two or more people. Additionally, aspects of the situation including tools, artifacts, organizational routines, and language define practice by enabling and constraining interactions among leaders and followers.