26 SES 04 C, Distributing and Configuring Leadership
Many institutes of higher education (IHE) have integrated sustainability into campus life, responding to the calls of international declarations concerning sustainability in higher education (James & Card, 2012; Kurland & Zell, 2011; Lozano, Lukman, Lozano, Huisingh, & Lambrechts, 2013; Madeira, Carravilla, Oliveira, & Costa, 2011; Orr, 2004). It is widely agreed that effectively incorporating such sustainability practices into IHE means making institution-wide changes, like establishing local leadership on campus and changing the institution’s organizational culture (Woods, Bennett, Harvey, & Wise, 2004). However, changes in behavior and attitudes towards the environment are difficult to achieve on both the individual and organizational levels (Brinkhurst, Rose, Maurice, & Ackerman, 2011). These difficulties are due in part to the organizational characteristics of IHE, where the dominant management approach is usually based on centralized “top-down” leadership strategies (Gronn, 2008; Spillane, 2012). Furthermore, IHEs are typically divided into disciplinary departments, with little collaboration and cooperation between them (Dale & Newman, 2005; Moore, 2005). These characteristics contradict the needs of sustainability-based management, which requires a holistic perspective, and an integrative management approach that includes collaborative work and partnerships (Cortese, 2003). The conservative approach toward leadership reflected in these barriers significantly influences the possibility of effectively incorporating sustainability in those organizations, since promoting the complex principles of sustainability at the institution-wide level requires a more ambitious, more holistic and more integrative leadership approach.
Distributed leadership has been reported as an effective management approach for educational organizations such as IHE (Fullan, 2005). The study presented here investigated the role of distributed leadership in the widespread promotion of sustainability in Green Urban College (GUC), a large Israeli teacher education college. Spillane, Halverson, and Diamond (2004) argued that "leadership should be assessed not as an individual but as “an organizational quality”, which extends beyond the actions and characteristics of those who ostensibly stand at the organization’s “top” (p.7). They claimed that “the appropriate unit of analysis” for leadership is not “leaders or what they do”, but rather “leadership activity”, which is “defined and constructed” through “the interaction of leaders, followers and their situation”, and through “the execution of particular leadership tasks” (p. 10).
Distributed leadership can be analyzed from different organizational levels: the individual, the interaction between individuals (group) and the organization as a whole (Spillane et al., 2004). This study was designed to explore, at the level of organization as a whole, how distributed leadership contributes to the process of embedding sustainability in an Israeli teachers’ college. Specifically, it investigated how the characteristics of distributed leadership are expressed in three central organizational structures in the college. These three structures represent the process of promoting sustainability in GUC as part of the organizational effort to green the campus. They are: (1) A student leadership group for sustainability; (2) The Green Council (which includes both staff and students and promotes sustainability on campus); and (3) a sustainability-oriented professional development program for academic and administrative staff.
Through these structures, the study asked: In what ways do specific aspects of distributed leadership promote sustainability oriented activities on campus?
This study is grounded in the qualitative interpretive approach, which “centers on the way in which human beings make sense of their subjective reality and attach meaning to it” (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011), p. 7). We used the instrumental case study method to get a general understanding about how distributed leadership is reflected in IHE structures. Case studies require the use of multiple data sources, such as interviews, documents and observations (Yin, 2009). This study used semi-structured interviews, document analysis and observations. Study participants, data collection and analysis Participants included 18 individuals who were involved in promoting sustainability on the GUC campus, which related at least to one of the groups (student group, green council, professional development program) during 2006-2011. They consisted of five academic staff members, four administrative staff members and nine students. The data were collected by: (1) semi-structured interviews with all participants, (2) observations that were summarized in written protocols, and (3) documents such as protocols of the student group and the green council’s regular meetings, and written data related to GUC’s agenda. The data were analyzed using a deductive approach (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005), which was used to demonstrate categories characterizing principles of distributed leadership (as reflected in the literature). Transcripts of the interviews, observations and documents were analyzed according to the contextual, structural and developmental dimensions of the Multi-Level Model of Leadership Practice in HE developed by (Bolden, Petrov, & Gosling, 2008). Within each dimension, the data were categorized according to factors drawn from the “variable elements” of distributed leadership described by Woods et al. (2004): Internal context (part of the contextual dimension) – includes the commitment to trust that existed between participants and the organizations, and amongst the participants themselves. Structural factors (part of the structural dimension) include the duration of each structure and the duration of its impact on GUC (short term vs long term), the type of involvement of the participants (voluntary vs. obligatory) and the degree of control or autonomy. Control or autonomy refers to GUC’s encouragement or discouragement of the members to participate in sustainability-oriented initiatives, and the benefits to be gained from this participation. Developmental factors (part of the developmental dimension) – include the source of change, and the development of the “top-down” and “bottom-up” types of leadership.
Findings are presented according to three dimensions: (1) Internal context: commitment to trust - Though the level of commitment to trust between the three structures differed, relatively high levels of commitment to trust were found between the participants of each structure and the organization, and among the participants themselves. (2) Developmental factor: source of change - the data showed variability in the source of change among the three structures. The student group was mainly a “bottom-up” structure, the SLDP was mainly a “top-down” structure and the green college combined the two approaches. This variability highlights the influence of the distributed leadership approach on the promotion of sustainability. (3) Structural factors: the three structures demonstrate diverse degrees of autonomy and control between them. Although a high level of autonomy was not found within all three structures, where autonomy did exist, it served as a suitable platform for distributed leadership development. The diversity of the structural factors between the three structures contributed to the distributed leadership in different ways. This study showed that distributed leadership can be a useful foundation for embedding sustainability in an IHE. It serves both as a theoretical framework and a platform for practical strategies. In terms of management and administration, sustainability-promoting action was initiated by the students and was “bottom-up” based. The GUC administration’s encouragement of these students’ sustainability-oriented leadership illustrates the administration’s support of distributed leadership. This is also illustrated by its encouragement of “top-down” decisions to involve administrative and academic staff in joint sustainability promoting structures like the green council and the SLDP. In other words, the administration’s support and initiative regarding all three of the structures addressed in this study served to increase the legitimization of a distributed leadership that includes students as well as academic and administrative staff.
Bolden, R., Petrov, G., & Gosling, J. (2008). Developing collective leadership in higher education: Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. Brinkhurst, M., Rose, P., Maurice, G., & Ackerman, J. D. (2011). Achieving campus sustainability: top-down, bottom-up, or neither? International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 12(4), 338-354. Cortese, A. D. (2003). The critical role of higher education in creating a sustainable future. Planning for Higher Education, 31(3), 15-22. Dale, A., & Newman, L. (2005). Sustainable development, education and literacy. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 6(4), 351-362. Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2011). The SAGE handbook of qualitative research: Sage. Fullan, M. (2005). Leadership & sustainability: System thinkers in action. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press. Gronn, P. (2008). The future of distributed leadership. Journal of Educational Administration, 46(2), 141-158. Hsieh, H., & Shannon, S. E. (2005). Three approaches to qualitative content analysis. Qualitative health research, 15(9), 1277-1288. James, M., & Card, K. (2012). Factors contributing to institutions achieving environmental sustainability. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 13(2), 166-176. Kurland, N. B., & Zell, D. (2011). Green management: Principles and examples. Organizational Dynamics, 40(1), 49-56. doi:10.1016/j.orgdyn.2010.10.004 Lozano, R., Lukman, R., Lozano, F. J., Huisingh, D., & Lambrechts, W. (2013). Declarations for sustainability in higher education: becoming better leaders, through addressing the university system. Journal of Cleaner Production, 48, 10-19. Madeira, A. C., Carravilla, M. A., Oliveira, J. F., & Costa, C. A. (2011). A methodology for sustainability evaluation and reporting in higher education institutions. Higher education policy, 24(4), 459-479. Moore, J. (2005). Barriers and pathways to creating sustainability education programs: policy, rhetoric and reality. Environmental education research, 11(5), 537-555. Orr, D. (2004). Earth in mind: On education, environment, and the human prospect: Island Press. Spillane, J. (2012). Distributed leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Spillane, J., Halverson, R., & Diamond, J. (2004). Towards a theory of leadership practice: A distributed perspective. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 36(1), 3-34. Woods, P. A., Bennett, N., Harvey, J. A., & Wise, C. (2004). Variabilities and dualities in distributed leadership findings from a systematic literature review. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 32(4), 439-457. Yin, R. K. (2009). Case study research: Design and methods (Vol. 5): Sage Publication.
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