The instructional leader is a relic – an outdated caricature that never really existed.
Note the emphasis on “the” and “leader.”
Instructional leadership is alive and well – not to mention more necessary than at any point in history.
Ask any great leader—I asked a number of them for my forthcoming book, Leading Together: Teachers and Administrators Improving Student Outcomes—and they will tell you that it is more about the leadership work than the leader. The work determines the leader. But they also know people matter because there is no leadership without influence and no influence without others.
If you are leading alone, you are not leading—you are wandering.
We understand this intuitively, so why do policymakers keep talking about “the instructional leader” as if there is a singular force courageously leading the educational charge? Why do we equate administrator with leader and teacher with “Just-a-Teacher” as if that is almost a title?
“What do you do?”
“I am Just-a-Teacher.”
The “Just-a-Teacher” seems to be saying that being a teacher is something less than other roles in education. This needs to stop.
We need school leaders – administrators, teachers, and students – who have the expertise needed to do the necessary leadership work.
Collective leadership encompasses the practices through which teachers and administrators influence colleagues, policymakers, and others to improve teaching and learning.
Collective leadership is about more than task delegation to make administrative work more manageable. It is about more than an administrator magnanimously sharing power.
The type of leadership we need requires the collective expertise of entire school building. Great administrators have knowledge of finance, instruction, school law, management, policy, and organizations that is essential for school improvement. Teachers have expertise that is at the heart of the technical core of the educational enterprise – the art and science of teaching and learning.
If our goal is to improve teaching and learning, how could teachers and students not be involved in leadership?
Here are three ideas for how we could improve student outcomes through collective leadership:
In order to grow together and find solutions rooted in the classroom, administrators and teachers should co-teach. What if classroom visits by administrators were more than walkthroughs or formal evaluations? What if administrators co-taught on a somewhat regular basis with teachers? Even if this were only a few times a semester, this would be a start. All of the great administrators I know say they miss teaching. Here is a chance to get back to their first love and develop leadership and build credibility side-by-side with other teachers.
One high school principal told me that his philosophy of leadership was to “do his absolute level-best to say ‘yes’ to as many good ideas from teachers and students as possible.” The ideas were theirs. Teachers and students along with the administrative team wrote the School Improvement Plan every year. The principal’s greatest challenge was bringing coherence to all of the ideas that effervesced from classrooms – not a small task. This kind of co-leadership is essential to collective leadership.
Is it working for kids?
What difference does this make?
How could we do better?
These are the kinds of unblinking questions we have to ask as we interrogate our practices. If we are going to co-teach, co-lead, and let innovative ideas arise from the classroom, we have to be diligent about collecting and evaluating evidence. This can include, but is certainly not limited to, test scores. Some of the most powerful conversations we can have as education leaders in a building are about the kinds of evidence that we want to collect to determine whether or not we are achieving our desired outcomes. We need collective expertise to know how to best determine whether or not we are meeting our goals.
Let’s keep the instructional leader in the sepia-soaked past.
Our students deserve collective leadership.
How do you see collective leadership transforming education?