Shared leadership is both one of the most powerful and one of the most underused approaches to improving student learning. Shared leadership is supported by a growing body of research by such authors as Lambert (2002), Lindahl (2008), and Marks and Printy (2003, 2006). It is absolutely foundational to developing any school as a professional learning community (PLC).
The research is compelling, but sharing leadership is somewhat foreign to most principals. Here are some questions and ideas to help you reflect and get started with shared leadership:
Why should you consider sharing leadership with teacher leaders?
- Teachers are the experts in their own curriculum. Most principals cannot hope to match the expertise of their teaching staff; thus, the decisions made in shared leadership are likely to lead to superior results over solo decision-making by the principal, or by a small administrative team.
- Teachers are the implementers; they are the ones who must plan and deliver the instructional program to students every day. They deserve to have their professionalism respected by having their peers share in the leadership and decision-making related to the program.
- Teaching staff are far more likely to take ownership of improvement initiatives that are co-led by teacher leaders than those simply handed down by administration.
- Most principals work hard to get buy-in from staff for improvement initiatives, but buy-in is a relatively weak and useless concept. It is easy to give “buy-in lip service” to initiatives, and then continue to ignore or even resist them.
To what extent are you sharing leadership already?
- Who is on your leadership team? Are its members selected based on their openness to change, their attitudes toward students, and their teaching expertise? Or is the position simply rotated from one teacher to another, or determined by the vote of colleagues?
- Does the leadership team actually share in decision-making, or is its function mainly to share administrative communiqués and approve (rubber stamp?) decisions that have already been made?
- Does everyone on the leadership team clearly understand the various kinds of principal decision-making? For example, is it clear when the you are going to make a decision administratively, or will make the decision after gathering input, versus decisions that will be made by the leadership team and administration together?
- Are decisions made in shared leadership upheld by administration even if individuals complain?
- Is the leadership team’s involvement focused in the areas of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, or is the time spent on the myriad other areas of school operation (administrivia)?
- Do you have regularly-scheduled time with your teacher leaders, calendared (ideally) so that the team meets in advance of the upcoming month’s teacher-team collaborations?
- How are you building shared knowledge about curriculum, instruction, and assessment with your teacher leaders? Do you learn together as a team, or do you present new material to them as the administrative expert?
- How are you helping your teacher leaders develop the leadership skills they need to lead team collaborations with colleagues? How do you support those who have challenging team members?
Finally, if you are new to shared leadership, what are your own next steps?
- Have you taken an honest self-assessment of your own readiness to share leadership? What are your fears? What are your “Yeah, buts” – ?
- If you need to select a new leadership team for shared leadership, will you keep the traditional, standing leadership team in addition to the new one? What will you call this new team?
- How will you inform your district supervisors so that they are prepared if/when rumors reach the district office about the new direction you are taking?
- How will you carve out time to meet with your new team on a regular (e.g. monthly) basis?
- How comfortable are you with consensus building (as opposed to decision-making by vote)?
- What is the current, or next major topic about which you need to build shared knowledge with your teacher leaders? What resources will you use?
- How will you keep your finger on the pulse of reactions among staff members? How will you respond to questions from teachers and teacher leaders?
Schools that have become effective PLCs using shared leadership not only show significant growth in student outcomes in the short term. The improvement trajectory continues over time, as seen with the 56 schools that met the criteria for inclusion on allthingsplc in Riverside County, California. Additionally, many teachers who grow into shared leadership roles gain a renewed passion for their work, and principals gain true partners in the challenging and rewarding work of leading their schools.
Lambert, L. (2002). Beyond instructional leadership: a framework for shared leadership. Educational Leadership, 59, 37-40.
Latham, M. & Wilhelm, T. (2014). Supporting principals to create shared leadership. Leadership, 43(3), 22-26, 38.
Lindahl, R. (2008). Shared leadership: can it work in schools? The Educational Forum, 72, 298-307.
Marks, H., & Printy, S. (2003). Principal leadership and school performance: an integration of transformational and instructional leadership. Educational Administration Quarterly, 39, 370-397.
Printy, S. & Marks, H. (2006). Shared leadership for teacher and student learning. Theory Into Practice, 45, 125-132.
Wilhelm, T. (2010). Fostering shared leadership. Leadership, 40(2), 22-24, 34, 36, 38.
Wilhelm, T. (2013). How principals cultivate shared leadership. Educational Leadership, 71(2), 62-66.