Leadership for Collective Learning: An Effective Distributed Perspective

Project Number
OER 24/14 HS

Project Duration
March 2015 - October 2018


Over the last decade or so educational contexts are increasingly getting complex insofar as the changes accompanying educational reforms are characterized by increasing intensity, rapidity, fluidity and uncertainty. Schools are expected to satisfy the needs of multiple school stakeholders namely policymakers, parents and community members. However, the real challenge is on school leaders to mobilize and optimize physical and human resources towards shared organizational goals in increasingly demanding and complex educational contexts. One reason for this rising complexity is due to the general weakening of classifications in social relationships and boundaries, and a moving away from organized social structure to network culture. Furthermore, contemporary reforms in the public service has been observed to demand greater 'joined-up' or 'network' regime of governance - a societal culture wherein (i) all categories and classifications are weakened and rendered increasingly permeable (a flexible 'liquid modern' view of space and time) and (ii) the new work order consistent with the knowledge economy (where individuals work and learn beyond bureaucratic enclosures using their loose spatial and temporal codes). It is therefore understandable that school leaders use up more time and energy in managing these increasingly fluid and cross-boundary relationships. It is also not surprising that school leaders resort to distributed leadership where leadership decisions are delegated and shared to other staff members beyond the purview of school principals. In the Singapore context, delegation or sharing of leadership decisions to middle managers such as department heads (HODs) or subject heads (SHs) is a common place, especially pertaining to instruction. In this sense, distributed leadership is closely tied to instructional leadership. However, over time, leadership decisions pertaining to instruction have been delegated and shared to teachers who are considered informal leaders, or teacher leaders. In the Singapore context, these teacher leaders include Senior or Lead Teachers (STs and LTs), Subject and Level Reps, and Professional Learning Community Team Leaders - all of which are involved in making leadership decisions on instruction. The effectiveness of distributed leadership to enhance instruction is therefore dependent on how well instructional leadership is distributed through teacher leadership, and thus the importance of developing distributed leadership and teacher leadership. The development of distributed and teacher leadership will centrally impact on the collective learning of teachers, which brings about improvements in teaching and student learning. However, the current theories on distributed leadership, teacher leadership and collective learning are still not yet fully developed - lacking agreement on definitional, conceptual and operationalization terms, and the establishments of their linkages to school outcomes (teachers and students). This study seeks to strengthen the conceptual and operational understanding of these organizational leadership and learning constructs, and establish their relative effects on school effectiveness and school improvement processes. The study consists of two phases: 1) Survey, and 2) Intervention. The first explores the relative direct and indirect relations of the three main constructs on teacher and organizational capacities. The second explores how schools in different contexts develop teacher leaders. The study hopes to provide practical useful knowledge to school leaders so as to optimize their organizational capacity in response to the growing intensity, rapidity, fluidity and uncertainty of education changes in the 21st century. This study is also part of a larger Programmatic Research Study on Leadership and School Outcomes (LSO) titled, An Investigation of the Impact of Leadership Practices on Student Learning and Development Outcomes in Singapore Schools.

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