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Generating change from below: what role for leadership from above?

Fiona King (School of Inclusive and Special Education, Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland)
Howard Stevenson (Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Article publication date: 4 September 2017




In recent years the benefits of distributed leadership have often assumed the status of an unchallengeable orthodoxy. There is a general acceptance that leadership is best when it is dispersed. In reality this is often little more than a form of “licensed leadership” in which those working in subordinate roles can only exercise their leadership in tightly prescribed contexts. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the contribution of teacher professional development to promoting a more optimistic vision of teacher leadership and, ultimately, organisational change. It explores the role of leadership “from above” in supporting classroom teachers to engage with and sustain change.


The study, which was situated in the Republic of Ireland, employed a case study approach with 20 participants in five urban disadvantaged schools.


The paper seeks to demonstrate how a professional development initiative was used to promote significant and sustained change in four of the five case study schools.

Research limitations/implications

It argues that in order to understand sustained change in schools it is necessary to better understand the complex ways in which leadership from above can generate change agency from below.


This paper offers a critical perspective in relation to mainstream distributed leadership theory and practice.



King, F. and Stevenson, H. (2017), "Generating change from below: what role for leadership from above?", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 55 No. 6, pp. 657-670.



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