Talk by Jim Spillane Kicks Off New Teacher Leader Program

Talk by Jim Spillane Kicks Off New Teacher Leader Program

Jim Spillane

To launch a new teacher leader curriculum, the Master of Science in Education (MSEd) program hosted an alumni event on May 29 featuring a talk by professor James Spillane. Spillane, who is internationally known for his writings on distributed leadership in schools, spoke on “Teachers Who Lead and Leaders Who Teach.”

Northwestern’s 15-course teacher leader master’s degree program aligns with state guidelines for a new teacher leadership endorsement in Illinois. It is designed for current teachers who aspire to leadership roles, such as department chair or curriculum coordinator.

Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon, director of the MSEd program, said the goal of the teacher leader master’s program is “to develop the skills that dynamic, reflective leaders in education need.” A distinguishing feature of Northwestern’s teacher leader program is that it focuses on a curriculum area — mathematics, literacy, science or the gifted. It also features a master’s project to investigate a leadership question of genuine interest.

Haroutunian-Gordon introduced Spillane as the “spiritual leader and mentor” for the new program “because his vision of leadership is eminently practical and meaningful.” Spillane has published extensively on public policy and education reform, and his books include Distributed Leadership, Distributed Leadership in Practice and Diagnosis andDesign for School Improvement.

In his talk, Spillane provided a theoretical model for leadership practice emphasizing the interactions among school staff. “What we are trying to transform is what happens in the interactions,” he said. He defined teacher leaders as formally designated leaders, and he distinguished between leadership as designed and as “lived.”

Spillane, who has examined where teachers actually go for advice in curricular matters, displayed social network diagrams based on extensive research. His studies reveal that part-time leaders are more likely to be part of advice networks than full-time leaders, and formal leaders are more central to advice networks than teachers.

Spillane reminded the audience of the need to focus on interactions in considering leadership. “Social relationships give us access to expertise,” he asserted.

Most importantly, Spillane sees the need to prepare teacher leaders in diagnosis and design. He discussed how school leaders can design and redesign the formal organization of schools. His research has found patterns such as the fact that professional development participants become central in math networks, and new formal leadership roles influence advice seeking. Finally, he has discovered that organizational routines can change leadership practice.

 “We need to design formal structures that influence the practice of leading and managing instruction,” he said. “To understand leading and managing practice, we need to understand the distributed perspective: leaders, situations and followers.”

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 9/13/12