Education Letter to the Editor

When School Leaders Must Cede Control

November 14, 2017 1 min read

To the Editor:

Education Week’s article on the New Teacher Center’s “School Leadership Counts” report (“Teacher Leadership Is Linked to Higher Student Test Scores in New Study,” Oct. 26, 2017) reinforced what most of us already knew: Schools do better when teachers are involved in making the decision. The report offers compelling evidence that school leaders should take more proactive steps to bring teachers into school improvement efforts. The issue the report doesn’t address is what proactive steps they should take.

Our nation’s school systems have existed for centuries using a hierarchal model of decisionmaking. Students report to teachers, teachers to principals, and principals to superintendents. The pecking order is so powerful that many teachers feel anxiety just speaking to their principals, never mind offering suggestions for improvement. If school leaders want to have true distributed leadership, they must bring in new models of decisionmaking that challenge the current paradigm. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of such models.

In my consulting-group work to create a school transformation system that flattens this hierarchy, we’ve found that it’s not always easy for school leaders to let go of control. They often fear that if teachers’ decisions don’t work well, their own necks are on the line. But those who have been willing to take the leap of faith have seen powerful results beyond just empowering teachers to become leaders, including: improved collaboration; more innovation; increased ownership of change initiatives; and higher levels of trust, support, and mutual respect across the school community. It’s a win-win model. But to get there, principals need to be brave enough to push against what they know about decisionmaking and try on a new type of leadership model that puts teachers in the driver’s seat.

Dara Barlin


DARE Consulting

Los Angeles

A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2017 edition of Education Week as When School Leaders Must Cede Control