No reflection on the concept of shared leadership can occur before we first define the word “leadership.” I appreciate a great deal this elegant and crisp definition by Peter Block: “Leadership is the process of translating intention into reality.”
I have found individuals around our country and beyond who subscribe to this explanation, and who provide the explicit details of the definition:
1) leaders guide and support the organization (be it a football team, church choir, Chamber of Commerce committee, school campus staff, district office instructional coordinators) to identify new goals, a vision and/or mission, alternative direction, or a new and (hopefully and thoughtfully) improved status; and,
2) leaders provide the action and human and material resources that support the organization to reach the identified goals.
This is a large challenge, and demands an equally large agenda. It requires the participation of multiple persons who will contribute to the leadership activities. While the principal is the positional leader of the school, there are always others who have the potential to provide guidance and support to his/her organizational colleagues. The principal has a multiplicity of roles and responsibilities; supporting change and improvement efforts is only one of those. Thus, gaining help in this vital role is an imperative for the school’s efforts.
In sharing possibilities with teachers for serving as leaders, and supporting them by developing their knowledge and skills, the principal is cultivating a professional culture in the school. No longer is there an acceptance by employees to blindly accept directives and mandates from supervisors. We live in a time of extraordinary dissemination of information. No longer does the leader control this information, which allows a large body of individuals to access data/knowledge, and to consider if or how to act upon it.
The wise principal takes advantage of this situation to invite ideas and action from the staff. Nearly any individual (in any organization) will express appreciation for being listened to and heard. The wise principal nurtures the staff’s growth and development, their suggestions for change, and allows for a risk-free environment where this can happen -- noting that mistakes or failures of efforts are acceptable, if learning results.
When the principal encourages and promotes leadership among the staff, everyone feels part of the team, working together for the benefit of their clients -- students. Importantly, the research on professional learning communities identifies “shared and supportive leadership” as one dimension or attribute of effective PLCs. In these cases the principal moves from performing as the “sage on stage” to the “guide on the side.”
Scholar Laureate, 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.