However, a school in Western Australia, built on a hill that was named by traditional owners as being a place of learning, is making history that is likely to gain attention throughout the education community.  

Hillcrest Primary School stands on a hilltop in Bayswater, named by the Wadjuk traditional owners as a place of learning (Malya-Ba-Mia) is the first WA school to introduce its version of contributive leadership as opposed to distributive leadership. 

The term “distributive leadership” is widely used by educators to describe school leaders or principals that share leadership with staff. 

The term “contributive” was coined by Brett Darcy, principal at Rose Park Primary School, Adelaide, who told the Australian College of Educators Conference in 2015, “distributive conjures up the view of leadership handing out/delegating responsibility. 

“Contributive conjures up the view of staff taking ownership and leading the organisation in innovation and change from the teams of staff working together to drive progress and continual improvement”.

While Darcy conducted research into contributive leadership at Rose Park Primary School that involves a model of moving schools through elements of cooperation, collaboration and collegiality, Hillcrest Primary School has a different model that is less complex and not borrowed from the South Australian school model.

Dan Bralich, Hillcrest’s principal, is quietly confident that the new direction has changed culture and turned the old “boss” idea of leadership on its head.

“We had staff who were like islands of excellence in their domains while others had been at the school for many years,”  Bralich says.

“ I realised that to build a sustainable school I would need to build a team of leaders who were passionate, had clearly defined roles and willing to make a difference.

“We aligned people with their passion so that it was the power of love and not the love of power that led them,” he adds.

Helen Caton-Hughes, US Forton Chartered Marketer, said that the traditional idea of leadership came from the army with distributive being what was called “point leadership” as it was needed at unknown points and distributed across the activity. 

“Combine your skills, strengths, experience and abilities to contribute with the feeling that it is the right time to step up and you’re a contributing leader,” she says. 

Where schools comparable to the size of Hillcrest Primary School usually have two deputy principals the school reduced the administration quota to one Associate Principal and invited staff to take on leadership roles, in a strategic way, that would have fallen to another deputy principal in a traditional school. 

Liz Ford, Hillcrest Primary School’s vibrant associate principal who steers the Hillcrest contributive model says the school identified areas of need, aligned to school priorities, and invited staff to volunteer for contributive roles based on their strengths and interests. 

“Each staff leader is supported to develop their skills through a collaborative approach that uses their expertise,” Ford says. 

“They are aware of the expectations for each role through a job description that is negotiated with staff.”

Professor Alma Harris Director of the Institute of Educational Leadership at the University of Malaysia, and prior to that at the Institute of Education in London, praised the concept as a contributor to positive change and school improvement. 

“It is leadership by expertise rather than by years of experience and requires high levels of trust, transparency and mutual respect,” she writes. 

In very practical terms to be most effective the concept had to be carefully planned and deliberately orchestrated or it would not “just happen”, Harris says.

Ford says leaders took active part in strategic and operational planning and were invited to contribute innovative ideas. 

“We encourage identified leaders to buy in to new initiatives and develop professional conversations with colleagues,” she says.  

Professor Harris says while distributive or contributive forms of leadership could assist the development of leadership and school improvement further research was needed to confirm that it improved students’ learning outcomes.

Ford says the evidence collected by the school showed improvements in NAPLAN results with pre and post tests showing individual and group improvements.

“We have de-privatised our classrooms making sure that the staff knows what is going on in other classes and letting parents know how we work,” she says. 

“Our transition documents ensure that there is consistency in standards between classes as teachers moderate in groups so that we ensure sustainability,” Ford says.

Harris’ research shows the importance of allocating time for teachers to work together and generate “developmental activity of benefit to the school”.

Jacqui Phillips, a Early Years Phase of Development leader in the contributive model at Hillcrest says the benefits were the cohesive and collaborative nature of the model when staff worked together.

“We are all heading in the same direction and feel empowered,” she says.

“I have a good knowledge of what is going on because I’ve been involved in planning as leader.  The staff comes to me as a common source so there is consistency in the message through the phase of learning,” she says.

“We have a whole-child policy and this gives us an opportunity to make every child the best that it can be,” she says. 

“Collaboration is both the key and the benefit as it is inclusive,” Phillips says.

Research by Leithwood suggests that “high performing schools wisely distribute leadership”. 

Built on a hill that the traditional owners called a place of learning suggests that Hillcrest Primary School is a ‘high performing’ school, literally and figuratively.