Opinion Blog

Peter DeWitt's

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

Teachers, What Feedback Would You Give Your Principal?

By Peter DeWitt — December 11, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Let me first explain the title of this blog, because it will undoubtedly make some people angry. Hopefully, it will not only draw angry people in who don’t like or respect their principals, but it will bring in positive people who like their principals very much.

I want to hear a teacher’s perspective about their school leader.

You see, I approach every situation as a learner. Whether it’s in my personal life or professional one, I want to learn. That willingness to learn has gotten me into trouble from time to time, but the reality is that I write this blog to learn from others. When I run a workshop my goal is to learn from everyone in the room. When we learn together, we work to improve how things are, and one of those things I care deeply about is leadership.

I was fortunate to be the principal in a great school community. We saw our ups and downs, which I explored in this blog during those years, but I learned a great deal from the students, parents and the staff. Quite honestly, I remain in contact with many of them and continue to learn.

About six months ago I was running an instructional coaching workshop in Texas for Jim Knight, and we were exploring his partnership principles, which are equality, choice, voice, dialogue, reflection, reciprocity and praxis. When we got to the part about dialogue one of the coaches said her principal thinks he’s good at dialogue but he really isn’t. She said he tries to solve the issue for others, and will interrupt more times than he probably understands. From the way she spoke I could tell that she had a lot of respect for him but he wasn’t quite as good at the very thing he thought he excelled at, which was dialogue.

As I walked away from that workshop I considered the things I thought were strengths and wondered if they really were my strengths. For my former teachers reading this, I do know that dates and times were not my strong suit! Additionally, I began wondering if leaders have someone close to them that will tell them when they’re going down the right path or that their strength isn’t quite a strength at all. I was fortunate enough to have those individuals around me who told me when I was off-center, which was not always easy to hear.

Leadership Matters
Collaborative leadership includes the purposeful actions we take as leaders to enhance the instruction of teachers, build deep relationships with all stakeholders through understanding self-efficacy (.63) and building collective efficacy (1.57) to deepen our learning together.

John Hattie, someone I work with as a Visible Learning trainer, defines self-efficacy as “The confidence or strength of belief that we have in ourselves that we can make our learning happen.” In the research he collected, he found that the average effect size around self-efficacy was a .63 which is well over the .40 hinge point that represents a year’s worth of growth for a year’s input.

Collective teacher efficacy, which has a 1.57 effect size, is how we synergize that individual efficacy of the individual people we work with (including students) and get them to collaborate in a way where everyone walks out with deeper learning. Collective teacher efficacy is a primary goal for collaborative leaders.

So what does this have to do with a teacher’s thoughts on their principal?


I wonder if principals believe they are collaborative when they really are not? Do they think they are distributing leadership when they are just controlling from afar? I wonder if leaders believe that they are collaborating with teachers, when in actuality they already have the answers set before they even begin the stakeholder process that is meant to develop the solutions?

Leadership is Hard
About a decade ago researchers in the field of leadership began highlighting the idea of distributed leadership. In a research article by Huggins et al 2016 focusing on leadership development in teachers they quote Mayrowetz who defines distributed leadership as,

The notion that by having multiple people engaged in leadership, these individuals will all learn more about themselves and the issues facing the school. Eventually, the collective capacity of the organization will increase to the point that the school can address its own shortcomings." (p. 431)

Distributed leadership and collaborative leadership have common elements. Distributed leadership is about engaging staff into more teacher leadership roles and collaborative is concerned with building the self-efficacy of staff and students, at the same time they actively engage parents.

In the same research paper, Mayrowetz et al is quoted as saying,

If distributed leadership in schools is to begin, teachers must start to conceive of their roles differently and must assume responsibilities beyond their classrooms for purposes of overall school improvement. As teachers' jobs are redefined in this model, so too must be administrators' jobs if they are to maintain their function as supporting teachers and setting the conditions for their success. (Mayrowetz et al., 2007, p. 70)

So, what does this have to do with the title of this blog?
It’s important to remember that letting go of control of the building is as difficult as asking teachers to let go of control of their classrooms. It also means that within the last quotation by Mayrowetz, it is also understandable that miscommunication will happen. What we ask of teachers and leaders is a departure from what we learned about both roles.

However, before leaders can distribute their “power” and collaborative leaders can build the self-efficacy of others, they have to look in the mirror to understand their strengths and weaknesses, which means surrounding themselves with a critical friend who will give them high quality feedback, or videotape themselves in collaborative conversations or faculty meetings to see if they really do what they think they do.

As a teacher, if you could really provide feedback to your school leader what feedback (positive or negative) would you give them? Please take a few moments to fill out this anonymous two question survey to help me better understand how teachers feel about leadership.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including the best selling 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.