When The Wallace Foundation released a study on successful school leadership practices last year, I noted particularly one insight from the research: leaders do not act alone. As evidenced in the study, the most effective principals shared leadership in very deliberate ways to ensure high levels of student learning. They counted on teacher leaders to assist them in clarifying their vision and leading their colleagues to achieve it.
While this realization seems obvious to some, to others it is new and startling. Some principals are not prepared in ways that help them to create a vision for shared leadership. At the same time, some teachers are reluctant to consider their roles and responsibilities as school leaders. Schools will benefit when we can find ways to change both views.
A few years ago, we offered a session at our summer conference featuring elected and appointed leaders in professional associations. Panel members were invited to reflect on what they learned about leading that they wanted to pass on to others in the room.
I was surprised by a common element in the leadership stories of many panel members, as well as session attendees who shared their own experiences. Most of these highly successful educators had not considered themselves leaders or offered their services until after their first experience with a formal leadership assignment or recognition of their potential. I was shocked to learn that while 100 percent of the session attendees came to classify themselves as leaders, more than 75 percent of them had not sought leadership positions or considered a leadership paths until they were invited.
Individuals with the passion and capacity to serve as leaders don’t always make themselves known to us in obvious ways. Rather, we need to look around and be deliberate about inviting teachers to serve in leadership roles. School systems can design teacher leader academies, and principals can make sure to regularly identify teachers to participate. Everyone can take time to listen to colleagues’ aspirations and make sure they are given the encouragement to step up and lead. Leadership is needed in many forms, from formal committee assignments to short-term task forces, from formal positional responsibilities to informal support as needed.
Few schools are successful with one leader. The most successful schools are places where everyone shares responsibility for the success of all students and steps up to lead when they have expertise to offer or a point of view they know they must share. In all cases, teacher leaders are key to the results we seek.
Executive Director, Learning Forward
The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch 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.