Collective Leadership

8 January, 2021

Written by Barbara Watson

One of my holiday reads has been an article by Joe Raelin I found on Google Scholar about collective leadership (reference below). In his writing Raelin seeks to provoke the reader to grapple with the tension between collective and individualistic conceptions of leadership and he certainly provoked my thinking.

Collective leadership is defined as “a co-construction of activated work opportunities by those involved in the practice at hand” (p.60). In the ECE context this would mean a non-hierarchical approach with teachers working collaboratively to define and carry out the everyday work of teaching.

This contrasts with the historically dominant (and still common) approach of a positional leader directing proceedings and others in the team following their lead. Raelin argues that collective leadership involves the negotiation of roles, resources and realities and requires people to be open-minded, prepared to share their own voice and to listen to the voices of others.

These ideas seem to me to be in alignment with the expectations of teachers laid out in the Standards for the Teaching Profession and with the concepts of āko and wananga. However, this got me thinking about my experiences supporting teaching teams to negotiate their philosophies. Although I’m sure teachers would all like to think that they are open to others’ ideas and that they are prepared to listen to and accommodate the priorities and world views of their teammates, in reality this is often not the case.

When discussing what will go in a philosophy dominant voices can override those of others who either do not contribute (perhaps for fear of being seen to disagree) or tentatively share ideas only to see them cast aside in favour of the status quo. As a consequence, philosophy statements may become generic statements of a few people’s espoused beliefs rather than a genuine representation of the team’s (and community’s) values and priorities for children’s learning.

Those in positional leadership positions in ECE services may find themselves negotiating the tricky territory of having overall responsibility for curriculum provision while also trying to build collective leadership in their teams. Raelin has some insights into the positional leader’s role in a collective paradigm.

This view of leadership means a move away from individual, out of centre PLD towards in-practice facilitative and coaching approaches that support collaborative identification and solving of problems of practice.

Therefore, it seems to me that leaders would be wise to prioritise just-in-time support, and to develop their own capability to work alongside their teams in coaching and mentoring roles to facilitate learning and build leadership. Of course, this requires a pedagogical focus to the role rather than a managerial/administrative one and this can be a tricky balance to strike.

Maybe there’s another blog there.

Raelin, J.A. (2018). What are you Afraid of: Collective Leadership and its Learning Implications

Management Learning 49(1) 59–66.

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