Andrews, D., & Crowther, F. (2002). Parallel leadership: A clue to the contents of the “black box” of school reform. The International Journal of Educational Management, 16(4), 152.
The purpose of this study was to extend the previous research on inclusive methods of educational leadership and further develop a conception of “parallel leadership” as a strategy for effective school reform. The researchers conducted the study as an attempt to crack open the so-called “black box” of school reform (Hallinger and Heck, 1996) which asserts that even when leadership can produce measurable improvement, the process or mechanism – the actual behavior of the school leader(s) – remains hidden in a “black box.”
Before turning to their study, the researchers outlined three themes of the past ten years that suggest a need to change our working theories of educational leadership. First, inclusive, shared, or distributed models of leadership have emerged as positional leadership (namely the lone principal as leader) has diminished. Second, evidence for a link between internal school leadership and effective school reform has grown. Third, the role of classroom teachers as school leaders with direct impact on school reform has been established.
The study extended over five years, was ongoing at the point of publication, and research based. The population was limited to schools with observed success at significant school reform. The four distinct phases of the study were guided by three concepts: the role of teacher as leader, the relationship between the principal and teachers, and the means by which principals promoted the leadership of teachers. Phases one and two focused on creating a framework for understanding teachers as leaders. Phase three focused on the dynamic organizational structures of nine schools with documented increases in school achievement directly linked to school-based reforms. Phase four was ongoing at the time of publication of this article and focused on the dynamic processes of parallel leadership.
The researchers identified three major findings. First, the researchers found that
teachers are, in fact, leaders whose actions and behavior, rather than personality, have positive impact on schools.
This finding became clear in phases one and two, but could not be understood without reference to principals. This lead to phase three and the researchers’ second finding: parallelism. This conception of parallel leadership between classroom teachers and principals was found to share three characteristics: confidence in each other, shared goals and purposes, and space for individuality. The third finding indicates that parallelism operates in distinct ways to improve schools. There are at least three school wide mechanisms at work in parallel leadership:
professional development, agreement regarding teaching methods, and the ongoing growth of a distinct institutional culture.
The researchers do not propose any specific avenues for future research.