Book Review

Distributed Leadership

by James P. Spillane, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, Calif., 2006, 119 pp. with index, $22 softcover

Superintendents and principals who have had their school initiatives thwarted by influential faculty or staff members have learned the hard way that leadership can also be practiced by educators who do not hold formal leadership positions. In other words, as James Spillane describes in his book, Distributed Leadership, whether administrators intentionally share their leadership with others, distributed leadership is a fact of life in most elementary and secondary schools.

School administration has grown exceedingly more complex within the last decade, particularly at the building level. Even a mythical heroic leader would find the task nearly impossible today.

Hence, the author, a professor of human development, social policy and learning science at Northwestern University, studied the interactions of administrators and teachers in 15 schools in the Chicago area over a five-year period to refine his theory. He calls his distributed leadership framework “descriptive” because it explains the way leadership actually is practiced in schools rather than the way it should be practiced.

Spillane argues that by using a distributed leadership perspective, administrators can both reflect upon and redesign their practice with a better understanding of the “interactions of leaders, followers and their situations.”

He calls on leadership preparation programs to not only develop principals, but to also develop their practice.

Any administrator could employ Spillane’s framework to be more strategic about involving others in leadership tasks and routines.

Reviewed by Judith A. Zimmerman, assistant professor of educational administration and leadership studies, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio