Monday, January 21, 2013

Some reflections on shared leadership

An article I wrote and submitted to an educational magazine. It wasn't chosen to publish, so I will "publish" it here!

When a building administrator leaves, a grieving process begins for some staff and a sigh of relief resounds for others. A new principal must try to bridge the work of the previous principal and put their own stamp on the future. There are many concerns which come to mind: handling staff and student discipline, communicating with parents and community, teacher evaluations, and the list could go on and on. One of the key items that is many times missed by new principals is identifying teacher leaders.

Identifying Leadership

Identifying teacher leaders is a difficult task. Those teachers who visit your office early and say they are willing to help may not be the best leaders for the building. Some teacher leaders may have been very connected to the previous administrator, are still grieving, and do not want to reach out to you. You must take the time to get to know the staff and build their trust. Visiting with staff members individually and in small groups gives you time and the means to build a working relationship with your staff. This takes time, but is time well spent.

One task the principal may want to complete is to ask other teachers who the leaders are. This can be during individual or small-group meetings or with a survey tool. It may be surprising what is revealed. Those vocal people who present themselves as leaders may not actually be valued as leaders by their peers.

There may be teachers who are identified as leaders, but do not see themselves as leaders. There may also be leaders who do not want to serve in leadership positions or on a committee due to various circumstances. These could include negative experiences in previous leadership roles or bad relationships with other staff members. This in itself can provide many roadblocks. It may take time to build a relationship with the staff member and show them the value they bring to the leadership team.

Just within the last couple of months, one of my teacher leaders was not able to attend a district level meeting. I asked another a teacher, fairly new to the district, to step in and represent our building. She was very nervous about this task. We sat down and briefed about what the meeting would entail and what her role would be. She did an outstanding job and represented our building very well. The signs of leadership that I had noticed through conversations and glimpses of staff interactions have blossomed. My job as Principal is now to nurture and build her leadership skills, which includes membership of our School Improvement Team. This team is the my coalition that guides our professional learning.

Building the Leadership Team and Building Leadership Skills

"Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results." --Andrew Carnegie

Once you have identified your leaders, building the team becomes the task. Getting the leaders into the room is just the beginning. There are 4 key needs the team should fulfill before the true meaningful work can begin.

1. Establish norms or expectations for the team. These should include meeting times (both starting and ending), expectations for attendance, procedures for disagreements, and methods for solving conflict.

2. Establish roles. These can include timekeeper, scribe, encourager, and any other roles you see fit.

3. Establish a goal. Many teams use the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely ) goal plan or the five Ws and an H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How)

4. Understand the purpose of the team. This can be to make decisions, provide the principal with a sounding board, distribute information back to the other staff members, or a combination of these. Prior to building the team, the principal needs to have a firm understanding of the purpose of the team.

One component of the principal’s duties with the team should be to help build the leadership capacity of the members. This can occur through many forms of Professional Development. There are some great books which can be used as a book study, video series that can be purchased, or other means. Some recommended examples: Reframing Teacher Leadership to Improve Your School by Douglas Reeves, Leaders of Learning by Richard DuFour and Robert J Marzano. and Teacher Leadership that Strengthens Professional Practice by Charlotte Danielson. As an educational leader, a principal needs to build teacher leadership and continue to support teacher leaders with time, resources, leadership opportunities, and support.

Valuing the Team’s Time

One of the most important jobs of the principal is to ensure that teachers have the time and resources to provide the best learning possible for the students. Just the same, the teachers’ time is very valuable. There are norms which Leadership Teams should have in order to ensure teachers’ time is valued and honored.

1. A start and end time should be set. If a meeting is supposed to end at 4pm, the team should do whatever is possible to keep that norm or expectation.

2. All meetings should have an agenda which includes meaningful work necessitating the teachers’ time and energy.

3. Detailed notes should be kept for those who could not attend or for reference at a later date.

If teachers’ time is valued and honored, the culture of the building will improve.

The job of Principal is a daunting task. To make the job easier and to make our schools a greater place for our students building and fostering teacher leadership is essential. Developing a leadership team that has a specific goal or purpose will provide a principal with a coalition of support.

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