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Investigating School Leadership Practice: A Distributed Perspective


"The Distributed Leadership Study, a study we are currently conducting in Chicago, uses the distributed framework outlined in this paper to frame a program of research that examines the practice of leadership in urban elementary schools working to change mathematics, science, and literacy instruction (see dls/index.htm). This 4-year longitudinal study, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Spencer Foundation, is designed to make the "black box" of leadership practice more transparent through an in-depth analysis of leadership practice. This research identifies the tasks, actors, actions, and interactions of school leadership as they unfold together in the daily life of schools. The research program involves in-depth observations and interviews with formal and informal leaders and classroom teachers as well as a social network analysis in schools in the Chicago metropolitan area. We outline the distributed framework below, beginning with a brief review of the theoretical underpinnings for this work --distributed cognition and activity theory-- which we then use to re-approach the subject of leadership practice. Next we develop our distributed theory of leadership around four ideas: leadership tasks and functions, task enactment, social distribution of task enactment, and situational distribution of task enactment. Our central argument is that school leadership is best understood as a distributed practice, stretched over the school's social and situational contexts."