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The Distributed Leadership Studies: A case study of research in and for school practice


"Over the last decade, researchers in The Distributed Leadership Studies (DLS) at Northwestern University have been developing a framework for examining school leadership and management with an emphasis on their relations to classroom instruction ( Drawing on theoretical and empirical work in distributed cognition and socio-cultural activity theory, our distributed perspective involves two aspects principal plus and practice (Spillane 2006; Spillane, Halverson, and Diamond 2001, 2004). The principal plus aspect acknowledges that the work of leading and managing schools involves multiple individuals. The practice aspect foregrounds the practice of leading and managing, framing this practice as emerging from the interactions among school leaders and followers, mediated by the situation in which the work occurs. Practice is more about interaction than action. The school subject matter mathematics, science and language arts has figured prominently in our efforts to build knowledge about and for the practice of leading and managing.

In this chapter, I use our hypotheses-generating research and development work as part of the Distributed Leadership Studies (DLS) as an example of connecting research with practice and policy. I begin by briefly describing our research and development work on school practice and give attention to our various goals. I then describe some of the ways in which the DLS have forged connections with policy-makers and practitioners
through three different partnering experiences. I next consider, in more detail, one facet of our work involving the use of our research findings to engage policymakers and practitioners in diagnosing and design work so as to develop practical knowledge how knowledge as distinct from what knowledge. I conclude by reflecting on some of the challenges the DLS has encountered in engaging partners in policy and practice."