Spillane Recognized as Top Education Leadership Researcher

Spillane Recognized as Top Education Leadership Researcher

James SpillaneNorthwestern University’s James Spillane has been cited as one of the world’s most prominent education leadership scholars, according to two new published studies.

Spillane, an expert on school leadership and educational policy at Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy, is best known for coining and analyzing the “distributed” leadership model of education, which focuses on leadership practice rather than the individual leader.

 In a traditional approach to studying school leadership, the principal looms large and is often the sole focus of school leadership research. Spillane, a former schoolteacher, was among the first to flesh out a distributed perspective on leadership, framing leadership as “a product of the interactions of school leaders, followers and their situation.”

The distributed model emphasizes on how leadership is stretched over people and aspects of their situation including formal organizational routines and various tools.

The two new studies indicate that Spillane is both prolific and influential. In the first, he was ranked among the most published scholars on leadership models in education over the last three decades, according to a study in the current issue of Education Management Administration and Leadership.  

"Spillane has a unique approach which creatively mixes theory and practice,” said study coauthor Sedat Gümüs, associate professor at Turkey’s Necmettin Erbakan University. “This is why his work has received worldwide recognition. The academic world will continue to benefit from his research for a long time.”

In the second study,  researchers found that Spillane’s 2006 book, Distributed Leadership, was one of the top-cited books/reports in the field from 2009 to 2013, according to the review, published in the Journal of Educational Administration.

“It’s rewarding to see that my work is used and useful to others,” said Spillane, the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Professor in Learning and Organizational Change and an associate fellow at Northwestern's Institute for Policy Research.

Spillane’s work explores the how states, school districts, schools and classrooms, implement policy. He also studies and writes on organizational leadership and change.  Spillane consults with government and non-government agencies around the world. 

At Northwestern, Spillane is a former chair of the Human Development and Social Policy (HDSP) doctoral program, a professor in the HDSP and Learning Sciences programs and a faculty associate at the Institute for Policy Research.

In addition to Distributed Leadership, Spillane is the author of Challenging Standards, which explores leadership in the Common Core era, Distributed Leadership in Practice, and Diagnosis and Design for School 
By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 11/1/16