School Change Through Collective Leadership


January 3, 2013


Danette Parsley

What system conditions are required for rapid and sustainable school change? An international audience will find out when Education Northwest’s Danette Parsley presents January 4 in Santiago, Chile, at the 2013 International Congress for School Effectiveness and Improvement (ICSEI) conference. Dr. Parsley will discuss findings from a study she conducted on shared leadership.

The qualitative research study addresses a common challenge for educators: how to lead significant change collectively in their schools. “Today’s educators—especially those working in struggling schools—often feel frustrated by what seem to be overpowering constraints and stifling demands for accountability,” says Parsley. “Being left out of conversations and decisions about change compounds frustrations, making them feel that their actions do not have much influence on improving their schools and the educational outcomes of their students.”

The study Parsley will present offers hope to people in this situation. “This study is about individuals and groups who do believe they have influence; people who choose to work together to make positive changes in their schools and, as a result, feel hopeful and energized,” according to Parsley. “They think and act in ways that create better outcomes for themselves and their schools. This study is about discovering their stories and, in the process, illustrating what can be possible for others.”

The study documents the work of four elementary schools in Missouri that demonstrated increased student achievement and shared leadership capacity over the previous two years. In addition to exploring the school leadership teams’ conceptions of shared leadership, the study examines a framework of seven organizational conditions that were found to support a collective approach to leading change. Those conditions include:

  • Two-way communication and widespread participation in decision making
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities
  • Feedback, recognition, and celebration
  • Mutually supportive and trusting relationships
  • Collaborative learning and inquiry
  • Collective mindsets conducive to school change
  • Attention to shared purpose and focus for the whole school

Participants perceived the conditions to be mutually reinforcing and found the framework itself to be a useful tool to help them make sense of their experiences. I’m looking forward to presenting the findings at an international conference. It’s an exciting opportunity to engage in dialogue about systemwide support for school improvement with colleagues from around the globe.