How to Create a Resistance-Free Environment For Successful Distributed Leadership in Education


  • Asharf Salem University of Saskatchewan


The concept of distributed leadership in educational systems is considered a part of educational reform. The distributed leadership concept depends on many elements to be successful, including teachers’ commitment, teamwork and collaboration (Woods, 2004). Many researchers recommend the application of distributed leadership in educational systems due to its positive effects (Harris, 2004; Spillane, 2001); many more studies were concerned with the elements that can promote the distributed leadership application. However, few studies were concerned with the forces and obstacles that can prevent distributed leadership models from being successfully applied (Maxcy & Nguyen, 2006).

The purpose of this research study is to explore the concept of distributed leadership and its influence on educational effectiveness in schools. Elements of successful distributed leadership models will be weighed against sources of obstacles and will be emphasized thoroughly in this research study.

Based on these understandings, I constructed the following research questions.

  1. What are the elements of distributed leadership practice in schools that are effective in promoting educational achievement?
  2. What are the obstacles and barriers inhibiting successful distributed leadership?
  3. What is the role of trust and commitment among teachers to guard against failure of a distributed leadership experience?

Research Context 

The concept of distributed leadership or the democratization of school, was studied by many researchers.  Studies by Spillane (2001, 2003, 2007, 2008) and Duignan (2006) were very informative. Both authors viewed distributed leadership from opposing angles, but both agreed that distributed leadership is central to the teaching and learning process in schools and agreed that leadership involves all members of the school community, not just the principal.

Teamwork on the other hand is a key element of distributed leadership (Harris, 2004; Woods, 2007). Both authors agreed that the nature and purpose of distributed leadership is the ability of school personnel to work together, constructing meaning and knowledge collectively and collaboratively. Similarly, Spillane and Diamond (2007) recognized that multiple individuals could play leadership roles, whether in formal or in informal positions. Therefore, the distributed leadership perspective—as the authors view it—is neither a top-down, nor a bottom-up approach but does recognize that different people play leadership roles at different times in a horizontal approach (p. 45).

Another work by Spillane and Harris (2008) was centered on the notion that leadership is embedded in the vision of improving teaching and learning. The authors warned that a distributed perspective is not a recipe or a blueprint for practice, but it is a framework for focusing diagnostic work and a guide to help design for improving practice. Spillane and Harris concluded that a distributed perspective provides a framework for diagnosis and design of work. School staff are key agents in such a work environment Similarly, Harris et al., (2003) also agree that all teachers can lead. She postulated that all teachers harbor leadership capabilities waiting to be unlocked and engaged for the good of the school.

Some barriers and questions are raised and need to be addressed before a school could apply the distributed leadership models. Will the school adopt the shared decision making principals? Is there a possibility that distributed leadership could lead to the abuse of power? Are all distributions intended to enhance teaching and learning? (Maxcy & Nguyen, 2006).

Harris (2004) outlined some additional difficulties. She recognized that structural and cultural barriers operate within schools, which could make it very difficult for some teachers to practice the leadership role. Jockeying for power positions in a school can create a climate, which is not conducive to young teachers expressing their opinion, especially if it differs from the traditional or prevailing opinion (p. 15).

Most researchers agree that the elements of trust and commitment are essential for a successful work environment and especially for distributed leadership success, which depends on teachers’ cooperation (Woods, 2004). Few authors have studied the sources of conflicts and resistance that might face distributed leadership in education. According to Deep and Sussman (1996) the essential causes of resistance within organizations are different points of view regarding the priority of objectives, or methods used.  Lack of communication and competitions are among the major sources that would develop conflicts and ultimately resistance within educational organizations.

This study will try to address sources of obstacles that can inhibit a successful application of distributed leadership in education and how to avoid such obstacles, especially the resistance among school personnel. Establishing a resistance-free environment would be the solid ground for a successful distributed leadership application, which will consequently be reflected on our students’ educational achievements.


This study will attempt to answer the presented questions through interpretation, synthesis and critical analysis of published work on the topic of distributed leadership in education. Data will be synthesized by consulting the electronic resources of Saskatchewan University Library Webpage as well as Google Scholar Search Engine. Databases included JSTOR Archival Journals, Directory of Open Access Journals, ERIC (US Department of Education), EBSCO database.  The literature search will be filtered to include only peer-reviewed articles from 1990 to present. Search keywords will include “distributed leadership”, “resistance” and “resistance management”. Other terms synonymous to distributed leadership such as democratic leadership, shared leadership, or collaborative leadership will be also used.

Articles will be retrieved from several publishing educational journals namely Management in Education, Teaching and Teacher Education, Journal of Educational Change, Educational Management Administration and Leadership Journal.     

While most of the already retrieved articles support the application of distributed leadership in education, few articles studied the obstacles and barriers challenging success of distributed leadership. The element of trust and commitment would be critical for successful work environment but their relationship to a resistance-free environment needs further study, which will be studied with this research.

Ethical academic integrity guidelines will be followed during the literature review and writing processes. This study will avoid any kind of academic dishonesty or plagiarism. No further ethical approval is required


Duignan, P. (2006). Ethical Leadership: Key Challenges and Tensions. Melbourne,
Cambridge University Press.
Harris, A., Day, C., Hopkins, D., Hadfield, M., Hargreaves, A. & Chapman, C. (2003).
Effective Leadership for School Improvement. London: Routledge Falmer
Harris, A. (2004). Distributed Leadership and School Improvement: Leading or Misleading? Educational Management Administration and Leadership, 32(1), 11-24.
doi: 10.1177/1741143204039297
Harris, A. & Spillane, J. (2008). Distributed Leadership through the Looking Glass. Management in Education, 22(1), 31-34. doi: 10.1177/0892020607085623
Maxcy, B. D., & Nguyen, T. S. (2006). The politics of distributing leadership: reconsidering leadership distribution in two Texas elementary schools. Educational Policy, 20(1), 163- 196. doi: 10.1177/0895904805285375
Spillane, J., Halverson, R. & Diamond, J. (2001). Investigating School Leadership Practice: a Distributed Perspective, Educational Researcher, 30(3). 23-28.
Spillane, J.P., Hallett, T. & Diamond J. (2003) Forms of Capital and the Construction of Leadership: Instructional Leadership in Urban Elementary Schools. Sociology of
Education, 76(1), 1-17. doi:10.2307/3090258
Spillane, J. & Diamond, J. (2007) (Eds) Distributed Leadership in Practice. Colombia
University: Teachers’ College Press, New York
Woods, P., Bennett, N., Harvey, J., & Wise, C. (2004). Variabilities and Dualities in
Distributed Leadership; findings from a Systematic Literature Review. Educational
Management. Administration and Leadership, 32(3), 439-49