… And All That Jazz

"And All That Jazz" by Louise "Toni" Moore (CatholicTeacher.com)

Image credit: Dima Berkut, iStockPhoto.com

Shared leadership in schools, from our Summer 2019 issue.

By Louise “Toni” Moore

What, you may ask, does shared leadership have to do with a jazz band? The answer lies, at least partially, in the response to the question: Why do we organize into groups? We organize because we can’t do something alone. When we recognize that we are dependent upon others, how well we work together will make all the difference in regard to our success.

The metaphor of a jazz band has often been used when discussing principles of effective leadership. A jazz band functions organically, with various musicians taking turns assuming the featured role in a particular song. In fact, leadership or the main focus shifts, apparently effortlessly, from one instrument to another. All members of the band learn to flow with the general structure of the musical piece being played, while allowing for individuals to take turns in the spotlight. An essential belief among jazz musicians is that it is their individual strengths as well as their simultaneous collaboration that yield the richest and most valuable music.

Highly effective shared leadership can readily be compared to a jazz band. Shared leadership is the practice of governing a school by expanding the number of people involved in making important decisions related to the school’s organization, operation, and academics. Rather than the principal or chief officer of a school operating as a lone ranger and taking sole responsibility for all decisions, other members of the staff are invited to play a meaningful role in leadership. The individual gifts and contributions of all members are respected, while at the same time each of those individual gifts advances the same school “melody” or vision.

We can take some valuable lessons from jazz bands and apply them to our practice of shared leadership in schools:

Take turns leading. Success­ful leaders give others the opportunity to lead. Rather than a single individual dominating all decision-making, various members are invited to lead, especially when they can make a unique contribution. Principals can make it their goal to make space for teacher leaders to take on leadership opportunities. In fact, effective leaders support and encourage others to step up and assume leadership roles.

Leave your ego at the door. Effective leaders are humble and believe that others have good ideas too. Even if others’ ideas are not in harmony with the leader’s ideas initially, all members can focus on a common vision or “melody” that will best serve their shared goals.

Everyone’s ideas have merit and deserve respect. Listen carefully and hear what others are saying. Most of us spend far too little time really listening to others. In a jazz band, as in an effective school, individuals practice listening both for what is said and what might remain unsaid. Careful listening and an open mind lead to increased insight and understanding.

Be prepared for the unpredictable. The music of a jazz band is often free-flowing and unpredictable. Understand that sharing leadership will often lead you and your staff through unanticipated twists and turns along your path. Keep in mind that this is just part of the sometimes “messy” process of leadership. Your school’s shared vision and values will ultimately guide you in the right direction.

One of the biggest advantages of shared leadership is that it creates a sense of ownership among all members of the faculty and staff. People care about the success of the endeavors they actually lead, and that positively impacts their own leadership development. In addition, the practice of shared leadership in a school builds support, engagement, and understanding among faculty. By adopting and encouraging shared leadership, principals create a larger pool of talent, wisdom, expertise, and experience upon which to draw. Finally, shared leadership encourages the development of the next generation of school leaders.

There are many ways of encouraging and cultivating teacher and staff leadership. These will be unique to you and your staff. Use the lessons from the jazz band to create your own shared leadership “music” in your school!

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

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