EDUC43400 The Realities of Leading from the Middle

Academic Year 2023/2024

In semester one, ‘Contemporary Issues’ and ‘ School Leadership and the Quality of Teaching and Learning’ situate leading schools in Ireland within international discourses on leadership as well as paying particular attention to the policy context - nationally and internationally – particularly distributed leadership. This module build on this work in a number of ways. First, it adds additional literature on middle leadership—its genesis, trajectories and potential contributions as evidenced by empirical studies. It will also introduce the analytical lens of deliberative leadership (Sugrue & Solbrekke, 2020) based on the principals of deliberative communication while also indicating that we all work in ‘webs of commitments’ thus in seeking to lead aspects of school life it is necessary to be a ‘broker’ in order to negotiate ‘legitimate compromises’ (May, 1996).
Against this backdrop, participants on the programme will be required to reflect on and compose a number of context-relevant and practice-oriented ‘critical incidents’ where they have sought to enact leadership in their school context.
These critical incidents, while respecting privacy and confidentiality, will be shared, and the reflective commentary and feedback of peers sought and provided. In so doing, the programme is intended as an immersive experience, providing participants with an opportunity to experience developmental leadership while learning about it (Drago-Severson & Blum-DeStefano, 2019). Participants too will be asked to undertake a meta-analysis of their critical incidents, through the lens of deliberative leadership and drawing selectively on literature on leadership and middle leadership. More specifically, participants will collaborate and work independently to identify current barriers to their leadership influence and agency, while indicating also what needs to change and, consequently, which opportunities might be seized in order to be a more successful leadership broker, both vertically and horizontally within their school community and beyond. Through the dual collaborative and individual processes founded in critical incidents, participants will come to construct a strategy about how middle leadership can be a lever for organisational change and transformation.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of this module, participants will be enabled to:

• Be more articulate about the nature of leadership and recognise the distinct contribution that middle leadership has potential to make within organisations and communities
• Be more reflective about their own leadership in context, thus more reflective about their own actions but more critical of cultural milieu
• Identify descriptively critical incidents in their leadership actions as a first step in a more systematic, analytical approach towards building leadership capacities
• Generate priorities for, elicit, be receptive to and provide peer feedback, thus becoming more keenly aware of and committed to learning communities and professional collaboration founded in thoughtful engagement with appropriate research evidence
• Undertake systematic critique of their middle leadership experiences in context, and through the combined lens of deliberative leadership and selective aspect of other leadership literature, identify actions likely to enhance their leadership influence as well as contribute to transformation of the leadership culture within the school.
• Integrate both pedagogical and middle leadership in making a contribution to the quality of teaching, learning and leading within and beyond the classroom
• Be more articulate about educational leadership, and identify ways in which their own experiences and insights, as well as those of their peers, as well refining existing literature while making modest contributions to it.

Indicative Module Content:

Middle leadership; organisational change and transformation; leadership development

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning


Online Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Peer and group work on site and through virtual classroom activities; pre-recorded lectures to guide reading and reflection using Brightspace; critical writing; reflective learning; case-based learning. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Portfolio: Generation of 3-4 critical incidents and provision of quality feedback on a peer's set of middle leadership critical incidents. Unspecified n/a Graded Yes


Project: 'Strategic Middle Leadership Transformation Project': comprises of a meta-analysis of critical incidents, analysis of peer feedback, as well as critique through a deliberative leadership lens. Week 12 n/a Graded Yes


Carry forward of passed components
Remediation Type Remediation Timing
In-Module Resit Prior to relevant Programme Exam Board
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Peer review activities

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Not yet recorded.

Bryant, D. A. (2019). Conditions that support middle leaders’ work in organisational and system leadership: Hong Kong case studies. School Leadership & Management, 39(5), 415–433.
Day, C., Grice, C., & University of Sydney. (2019). Investigating the influence and impact of leading from the middle: A school-based strategy for middle leaders in schools.[1].pdf?sequence=2
De Nobile, J. (2018). Towards a theoretical model of middle leadership in schools. School Leadership & Management, 38(4), 395–416.
Drago-Severson, E., & Blum-DeStefano, J. (2019). Growing leaders in schools and out: Building internal capacity for the mid-21st-century. Development and Learning in Organizations: An International Journal, 34(2), 49–52.
Edwards-Groves, C., Grootenboer, P., Hardy, I., & Rönnerman, K. (2019). Driving change from ‘the middle’: Middle leading for site based educational development. School Leadership & Management, 39(3–4), 315–333.
Forde, C., Hamilton, G., Bhróithe, M. N., Nihill, M., & Rooney, A. M. (2019). Evolving policy paradigms of middle leadership in Scottish and Irish education: Implications for middle leadership professional development. School Leadership & Management, 39(3–4), 297–314.
Grootenboer, P. (2018). The practices of school middle leadership. Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
Grootenboer, P., Edwards-Groves, C., & Rönnerman, K. (2020). Middle leadership in schools: A practical guide for leading learning.
Hargreaves, A. (2019). Teacher collaboration: 30 years of research on its nature, forms, limitations and effects. Teachers and Teaching, 25(5), 603–621.
Hargreaves, A., & Shirley, D. (2019). Leading from the middle: Its nature, origins and importance. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 5(1), 92–114.
Harris, A., & Jones, M. (2017). Middle leaders matter: Reflections, recognition, and renaissance. School Leadership & Management, 37(3), 213–216.
Harris, A., Jones, M., Ismail, N., & Nguyen, D. (2019). Middle leaders and middle leadership in schools: Exploring the knowledge base (2003–2017). School Leadership & Management, 39(3–4), 255–277.
Lárusdóttir, S. H., & O’Connor, E. (2017). Distributed leadership and middle leadership practice in schools: A disconnect? Irish Educational Studies, 36(4), 423–438.
Lillejord, S., & Børte, K. (2020). Middle leaders and the teaching profession: Building intelligent accountability from within. Journal of Educational Change, 21(1), 83–107.
Shaked, H., & Schechter, C. (2019). School Middle Leaders’ Sense Making of a Generally Outlined Education Reform. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 18(3), 412–432.
Solbrekke, T. D., & Sugrue, C. (Eds.). (2020). Leading Higher Education As and For Public Good Rekindling Education as Praxis. Routledge.
Tay, H. Y., Tan, K. H. K., Deneen, C. C., Leong, W. S., Fulmer, G. W., & Brown, G. T. L. (2020). Middle leaders’ perceptions and actions on assessment: The technical, tactical and ethical. School Leadership & Management, 40(1), 45–63.
Willis, J., Churchward, P., Beutel, D., Spooner-Lane, R., Crosswell, L., & Curtis, E. (2019). Mentors for beginning teachers as middle leaders: The messy work of recontextualising. School Leadership & Management, 39(3–4), 334–351.
Name Role
Mr Enda Hickey Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Mr Gavin Murphy Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Prof. Emeritus Ciaran Sugrue Lecturer / Co-Lecturer
Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Lecture Offering 1 Week(s) - 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33 Mon 18:00 - 19:50