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Bridging the gap with teamwork: collaborative leadership for communities of practice in the learning and skills sector

Bridging the gap with teamwork: collaborative leadership for communities of practice in the learning and skills sector

Jameson, Jill ORCID: 0000-0002-9545-8078 (2008) Bridging the gap with teamwork: collaborative leadership for communities of practice in the learning and skills sector. In: BERA Annual Conference 2008, 3-6 Sept 2008, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland. (Unpublished)

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Collaborative approaches in leadership and management are increasingly acknowledged to play a key role in successful institutions in the learning and skills sector (LSS) (Ofsted, 2004). Such approaches may be important in bridging the potential 'distance' (psychological, cultural, interactional and geographical) (Collinson, 2005) that may exist between 'leaders' and 'followers', fostering more democratic communal solidarity. This paper reports on a 2006-07 research project funded by the Centre for Excellence in Leadership (CEL) that aimed to collect and analyse data on 'collaborative leadership' (CL) in the learning and skills sector. The project investigated collaborative leadership and its potential for benefiting staff through trust and knowledge-sharing in communities of practice (CoPs). The project forms part of longer-term educational research investigating leadership in a collaborative inquiry process (Jameson et al., 2006). The research examined the potential for CL to benefit institutions, analysing respondents' understanding of and resistance to collaborative practices. Quantitative and qualitative data from senior managers and lecturers was analysed using electronic data in SPSS and Tropes Zoom. The project aimed to recommend systems and practices for more inclusive, diverse leadership (Lumby et al., 2005).
Collaborative leadership has increasingly gained international prominence as emphasis shifted towards team leadership beyond zero-sum 'leadership'/ 'followership' polarities into more mature conceptions of shared leadership spaces, within which synergistic leadership spaces can be mediated. The relevance of collaboration within the LSS has been highlighted following a spate of recent government-driven policy developments in FE. The promotion of CL addresses concerns about the apparent 'remoteness' of some senior managers, and the 'neo-management' control of professionals which can increase 'distance' between leaders and 'followers' and may de-professionalise staff in an already disempowered sector. Positive benefit from 'collaborative advantage' tends to be assumed in idealistic interpretations of CL, but potential 'collaborative inertia' may be problematic in a sector characterised by rapid top-down policy changes and continuous external audit and surveillance. Constant pressure for achievement against goals leaves little time for democratic group negotiations, despite the desires of leaders to create a more collaborative ethos. Yet prior models of intentional communities of practice potentially offer promise for CL practice to improve group performance despite multiple constraints. The CAMEL CoP model (JISC infoNet, 2006) was linked to the project, providing one practical way of implementing CL within situated professional networks.The project found that a good understanding of CL was demonstrated by most respondents, who thought it could enable staff to share power and work in partnership to build trust and conjoin skills, abilities and experience to achieve common goals for the good of the sector. However, although most respondents expressed agreement with the concept and ideals of CL, many thought this was currently an idealistically democratic, unachievable pipe dream in the LSS. Many respondents expressed concerns with the 'audit culture' and authoritarian management structures in FE. While there was a strong desire to see greater levels of implementation of CL, and 'collaborative advantage' from the 'knowledge sharing benefit potential' of team leadership, respondents also strongly advised against the pitfalls of 'collaborative inertia'. A 'distance' between senior leadership views and those of staff lower down the hierarchy regarding aspects of leadership performance in the sector was reported. Finally, the project found that more research is needed to investigate CL and develop innovative methods of practical implementation within autonomous communities of professional practice.

Item Type: Conference or Conference Paper (Paper)
Additional Information: Presented at BERA (British Educational Research Association) Annual Conference 2008. Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, Scotland. 3-6 September 2008.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Communities of practice; continuing education; lifelong learning
Subjects: L Education > LB Theory and practice of education
H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences
Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences > School of Education (EDU)
Faculty of Education, Health & Human Sciences > Institute for Lifecourse Development > Centre for Professional Workforce Development
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Last Modified: 17 Jan 2022 16:18

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