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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Collaborative Reflection: How Do You Lead?

By Peter DeWitt — December 04, 2016 5 min read
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Leadership can be rewarding and difficult all at the same time. It’s easy to be a thought leader, but much more difficult to put those thoughts into action. Situations arise at any given moment that takes our best thinking, and in my experience, there are four different types of leadership styles that we go to in those moments.

As much as we think we know the right answer when it comes to which way to lead, the reality is that we find ourselves in all four of these leadership styles depending on the situation we are in. Those four leadership styles are:

Bystanders - This leaders don’t define any positive goals and they don’t inspire stakeholders to collaborate. They have low growth performance and have low partnership qualities. Teachers work in silos and the principal remains in their office more than they make attempts to be visible.

Regulators - These leaders define the goal for the teacher and the school. Although they have high performance, they control the whole environment. These leaders know what idea they want to walk out of a meeting with well before they ever walk into the meeting. Unfortunately, they do not inspire true partnerships around the school as much as they promote compliance, which ultimately creates a hostile school climate where teachers wait to be told what to do.

Negotiators - Negotiators seem as though they are inspiring collaboration but what they do is define the goal behind closed doors, and then slowly make their way around the school or district and get people on board with their ideas. They create coalitions. This works just as long as stakeholders believe in the goal, rather than feel they have to achieve it because it’s coming from the top.

Collaborators - These leaders finds the perfect balance between inspiring stakeholders to collaborate and co-constructing building and classroom level goals. They believe in a high level of transparency and honesty, and have a high level of performance because stakeholders feel as though they have a voice in the process.

The list of leadership styles is not new. If you read leadership books you have no doubt found derivations of each one of the above. There are situations leaders find themselves in which they are using one of those styles. For example, when looking at beginning of the year requirements for teachers and students (i.e. First day sheets, emergency contacts, bus arrival and dismissal, etc.) leaders will most likely find themselves in the regulator stage. There are times when compliance and rules are needed.

What’s important to remember is that leaders should want to be in the collaborator stage as much as possible because it helps increase the self-efficacy (.61 effect size. Hattie) of staff and students, builds collective efficacy (1.57 effect size. Hattie) among staff as a whole, which increase growth and maximizes learning. Collaboration, when done correctly, helps increase student voice (Quaglia) and teacher voice (Quaglia and Lande).

One of the ways that leaders can learn to understand which leadership style they exhibit the most is through reflection tools. However, John Hattie, someone I work with as a Visible Learning trainer, says if we reflect without evidence we are merely remembering it the way we think it happened, and not necessarily the way it actually happened.

Collaborative Leadership Reflection Tool
The following are some reflective questions to answer. Each one is coded with a leadership style at the end (i.e. B - Bystander, C- Collaborator, etc.). In which leadership style do you spend the most time? Answer them honestly in the comfort of a private setting. If you have a critical friend to complete this with answer the questions and then discuss with them. This is not a judgment, but a reflective tool. Grab your favorite evidence and give it a go.

  1. I’m not overly concerned with the goals of my staff as long as they don’t get in the way of the task I need to complete in my office (B).
  2. I don’t know the goals of each staff member in my building (B).
  3. I prefer to wait for staff, teachers, students or parents to contact me about an issue even if I know about it first (B).
  4. Meeting central office needs is more important to me than the needs of the stakeholders within my school (R).
  5. I like to walk into a meeting with one idea and walk out with the same one (R).
  6. I expect the notes from each PLC, grade level or department meeting to make sure people are doing their job (R).
  7. I check the lesson plans of all of my teachers on a consistent basis and hand it back with feedback they can read (R).
  8. I discuss lesson plans with teachers on a consistent basis, and they give me insight into what students are learning so I can provide them with the best feedback possible (C).
  9. I need to get the answers to my questions on a regular basis (R).
  10. I listen to other people’s concerns fully before I provide my insight (C).
  11. In most cases I say our faculty and our school instead of my faculty and my school (C).
  12. I do not have to have all of the answers before I walk into the meeting because I know the collective power of the staff will come up with the best solution to our problem (C).
  13. I often have meetings after a meeting because I want to further explain my goal (N).
  14. I steer the conversation with staff toward my idea but in the end want them to think it’s actually their idea so they’re on board (N).
  15. I need to have all of the answers before I go into an individual or group meeting (R/N).
  16. I don’t really like to question initiatives coming from central office (B).
  17. I like to build consensus (N).
  18. I am ok with faculty asking me any questions in a faculty meeting. I prefer to discuss the elephant in the room, and come out with a better understanding of the mindset of staff (C).
  19. I don’t mind respectful confrontation as long as it leads to a better place for both of us (C).
  20. It is important for me to foster opportunities for all staff to share their voice (C).
  21. I make sure that those teachers who dominate meetings understand that everyone has the right to talk (C).

Which leadership style did you most identify with? Are you content with that? If not, how can you move toward the leadership style you would prefer?

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (September, 2016. Corwin Press/Learning Forward). Connect with Peter on Twitter.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.