Find the leader: a critical research narrative from a multi-site, multidisciplinary water literacies project

Year: 2013

Author: Thomson, Pat

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Distributed leadership is currently promoted in mainstream educational leadership and management literatures as the counter to the hierarchical and charismatic school principal. Critical leadership scholars challenge this notion, suggesting that what is being described is actually delegation, which in no way changes the top-down power relations in schools. To date there has been little empirical work which documents alternative models of more equitable power sharing. In this paper I offer one such example. It examines records kept during a two year action research water literacies project which involved a heritage water pumping station and its volunteers, five teachers from five schools, five artists, two academic action researchers, two teacher educators and a postgraduate researcher. Analysis of the project trajectory suggests that each person could be said to have ‘lead’ some project activities at some point in time. This was made possible by a collaborative management practice (one artist, the museum director and an action researcher) combined with an ongoing programme of project meetings/conversations. I argue that the most helpful metaphor for the leadership of the project is ‘the flock’, in which everyone takes a turn at initiating ideas and setting direction and everyone also enjoys being part of a wider group engaged in shared activity with a common purpose. To those promoting the idea of distributed leadership, this project might say ‘Get flocked’.