Subject Area



Educational leadership is a major factor in achieving the goals of state and federal policymakers centered on raising student achievement for all students. Before, the focus was on how the principal is managing the school, and now it is about the process, procedures and structures, and systems in place that drive instructional improvement. With the increase of federal legislation, a principal's instructional leadership is measured by student academic achievement (Van Roekel, 2008). The assumption of the federal, state, and local policies is that instructional leadership is evident on the campus to improve schools. Consequently, there is a problem in American public schools due to the increased level of work and accountability put upon each school principal for the success of all children and the school, (Apple, 2001; Bolden (2011); Darling-Hammond, LaPointe, Meyerson, Orr, & Cohen, 2007; McKay, 2011). This problem has negatively impacted a principal’s performance because of the changing expectations in the federal and state system.

A possible cause of this problem is that there have not been any other responsibilities that have diminished in the role of the campus principal. Some researchers argue that, “Contemporary school administrators play a daunting array of roles. They must be educational visionaries and change agents, instructional leaders, curriculum and assessment experts, budget analysts, facility managers, special program administrators, and community builders'' (See, Darling-Hammond, LaPointe, Meyerson, Orr, & Cohen, 2007, p.1). As principals try to prioritize the various responsibilities on the campus, the accountability of instructional leadership weighs heavily on their shoulders to close the growing achievement gap between expectations and performance. For this reason, principals should look at the concept of distributed leadership.

Distributed leadership is first and foremost about leadership practice rather than leaders or their roles, functions, routines, and structures. A distributed perspective frames leadership practice in a particular way; leadership practice is viewed as a product of the interactions of school leaders, followers, and their situation (Spillane, 2005). This framework differs from other leadership models such as authentic leadership and transformational leadership which focus primarily on the traits, values, and behaviors of leaders. An authentic leader is consistent with their values and genuine with their leadership. George (2003) defines authentic leadership through five characteristics including passion driving purpose, behaviors influencing values, connection to relationships, consistent self-discipline, and compassion to lead with heart. Bass and Avolio, (1993) recognize transformational leadership as leadership that has a vision aligned to the values of the organization, creating an emphasis on the leader’s ability to inspire innovation and influence through a shared vision. Distributed Leadership, however, recognizes the social interactions that are happening as well as the tools and routines that shape the leadership practice. Spillane (2006) references Thompson’s (1967) view of administrative theory, where he shares there is an interdependency in how people work together: reciprocal, pooled, and sequential. Thompson’s theory is notable because Spillane’s categorization of collaborative, collective, and coordinated distributed leadership is based on the actions of people within the system rather than the structure of the organization which aligns with Thompson’s categories of interdependency. Likewise, the distributed leadership process unfolds when capacity is developed for reciprocity within team members with and without formal leadership titles.

Bolden synthesizes the research on distributed leadership by noting the different conceptual frameworks by Gronn (2001), Leithwood, Day, Sammons, Harris, and Hopkins (2006), MacBeath, Oduro, and Waterhouse, (2004), and Spillane (2006). Bolden claims that distributed leadership is rooted in theory and the frameworks explaining the process (2011). While it is a different way to look at leadership, it is not a simple how-to guide for educational leaders. Therefore, a study that investigates distributed leadership practices, utilizing a qualitative case study approach, could provide insights into how school leaders practice distributed leadership to address the increase of accountability to generate school improvement.

Degree Date

Spring 5-2021

Document Type


Degree Name



Education Policy and Leadership


Dr. Dawson Orr

Second Advisor

Dr. Roxanne Burleson


Distributed Leadership



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License