A Conceptual and Methodological Framework of Arts-based Approach for Investigating Distributed Leadership

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


    This study aims to make an original contribution to knowledge by formulating a conceptual and methodological framework of using arts-based collage as a method for investigating distributed leadership. This framework is planned to test and develop through empirical research in the future. Studies have shown that by engaging teachers in the school leadership process, more leadership resources are created, and more opportunities are provided for teachers to exercise their agency (Tian, 2016; Tian et al., 2016). Replacing traditional heroic leadership, distributed leadership is regarded as a more effective leadership approach for 21st century schools (Harris, 2008; Spillane & Healey, 2010; Woods & Roberts 2018). However, distributed leadership does not take place automatically (Harris, 2013). It requires school leaders to purposefully design a supportive organisational structure and to nurture a democratic culture (Murphy et al., 2009). More importantly, to avoid distributed leadership being misused to overload teachers with miscellaneous administrative burdens, school leaders and teachers should be equipped with knowledge and tools to openly discuss and analyse the dynamics of leadership work (Gunter et al., 2013; Woods, 2004; Woods & Roberts, 2016). Research also shows that power differences and variations in status impact upon the practice of distributed leadership. These require greater attention in research so that a more critical understanding of distributed leadership is developed (Lumby 2013; Woods and Roberts 2018). Recent work in the field formulates a framework for studying the multiple authorities distributed across teachers in schools and highlights the processes of authorisation and status attribution that occur in leadership distribution (Woods, 2016; in press). Investigation of how these processes are perceived and exercised by teachers would add significantly to the understanding of distributed leadership. Drawing upon an extensive literature review and earlier experimental studies of using collage making to explore distributed leadership in the U.K., Finland and China, this study answered the question: How to theorise a conceptual and methodological framework of collage creation as a method for investigating distributed leadership? The theorisation work of the framework was drawn through concepts of physicality (the value of moving artefacts and materials to create images); wholeness (the ability of an image to allow a picture of the phenomenon to be seen, at the same time as allowing connections to be identified that might be hidden in a linear account); and participant agency (the fact that the collage creator is the designer and expert in the meaning of the image, which they explain the meaning of, and is in control of what they want to explore on the topic being researched). Methodology or Methods/ Research Instruments or Sources Used The arts-based method is relatively a new approach in educational leadership research. More desk-work is needed to further theorise this method. Thus, a literature review was undertaken which examined the rationale, ontology, epistemology and results of the collage method and published accounts of its use in educational leadership research. This study also drew upon the authors’ experience and reflections from three pioneering studies. These pioneering studies examined distributed leadership with the arts-based method of collage creation by research participants the U.K., Finland and China (Tian, 2017; Woods & Roberts 2016; Woods et al., 2016). Collage here comprises the use of objects which are placed by the participant on a surface as they explore the question they have been asked to consider. The authors shared and compared the field notes, collage images, interview transcriptions to reflect on how the selected collage materials facilitated research participants’ thinking process and what can be done differently of using collage creation as a method. Synthesising the results of this review with several pioneering studies conducted by the authors, a conceptual and methodological framework for further research into distributed leadership was formulated. This framework theorises the themes and processes of collage creation (such as physicality, wholeness and participant agency) that appear to facilitate its ability to offer the participant a tool through which to illuminate tacit knowledge, unspoken assumptions, and experiences that are challenging and often unshared in professional practice and will set out key steps in conducting the method. Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings Researching school leaders’ and teachers’ perceptions of relationships and matters of power, authority and status in leadership distribution is a challenging process. It raises issues that evoke emotional responses and experiences that may be sensitive. This study confirms that arts-based methods have a capacity to illuminate and enable exploratio...
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationEuropean Conference on Educational Research (ECER)
    Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2018


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