Administrator’s Corner: Step Up, Step Back

Creating a culture of shared leadership

By Louise “Toni” Moore, PhD

Rapid advances in technology, medicine, and society in general have placed additional emphasis on the quality of learning and instruction in our schools. As the educational leader of the Catholic school, the principal holds ultimate responsibility for cultivating the minds of students and for orchestrating the entire educational experience.

There are many facets to the role of educational leadership. Ensuring that every child has the necessary tools to succeed requires a spectrum of leadership abilities. How does the educational leader best meet the unceasing demands for differentiation, teaching 21st-century skills, real-world problem-based learning, equity in the classroom, critical thinking, and countless other best practices in education? The educational leader must be knowledgeable about current educational research and trends, able to leverage resources to take advantage of new opportunities, and lead and support teachers and students in creating the most effective learning environment and culture.

Rather than trying to do everything oneself, a more reasonable (and sane) approach is for principals to consider the notion of distributed or shared leadership. Every school is filled with trained, certified educators who together can contribute to a higher-quality learning environment than even the strongest leader could alone. Consider inviting your entire professional community to join in creating a vibrant and challenging learning environment. The benefits of shared leadership are many. By actively participating in creating learning goals and practices, teachers will develop their own leadership skills and become more engaged in the overall academic effort of the school. When encouraged to act as a professional community, teachers will work harder and with more spirit than when simply told what to do. In addition, years of Gallup polling have shown that higher employee engagement leads to both higher productivity and more satisfied employees.

The call for accountability for all students’ success continues to increase. As principals and teachers attend conferences that spark a desire to transform their schools into professional learning communities to improve student learning, shared leadership becomes an urgent necessity. In reality there are too many components necessary in providing educational leadership for any one person to perform strongly in all of them.

How can the principal develop a shared leadership culture in the school? Of course, not all leadership responsibilities that reside in the principalship can or should be shared. Legal and confidentiality issues, student safety, and numerous other areas of responsibility must be borne by the principal alone. In other educational efforts, however, principals and teachers can learn and work side by side.

Particularly in designing certain areas of instruction and student achievement, teacher participation and input are invaluable. Creating professional teacher teams and engaging with them is a key role for the principal. Teachers are empowered when they feel the principal is interested in and supportive of their work. Principals need to demonstrate their support by being learning leaders themselves. By providing opportunities for teachers to assume leadership positions, the principal also fulfills his or her pivotal role in developing new leadership.

The effective principal can best fulfill the educational leadership role by balancing “stepping up” (being more directive when needed) and “stepping back” (acting more in a guiding role when appropriate). A principal who can balance these two behaviors can create high-functioning teams of teacher-leaders who, in turn, can become more effective in sharing in the educational leadership role for the overall good of students and the school.

Cultivating the minds of young students is a great responsibility. And although this responsibility ultimately resides with the principal, it is one that most effectively can be shared with others.

Image credit: George Martell/Bayard Inc. 2017. All rights reserved.

Image credit: George Martell/Bayard Inc. 2017. All rights reserved.

Louise “Toni” Moore, PhD, is an educational consultant at the University of Dayton.

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Image credit: George Martell/Bayard Inc. 2017. All rights reserved.