Distributive Leadership: Why It’s Essential in Schools and Districts

We all have different leadership styles. Some leaders employ a transactional leadership style that is very business-oriented, where goods and/or services are exchanged for money (paycheck). Some leaders utilize a bureaucratic leadership style by ensuring people follow the rules and always complete tasks by the book. Other leaders may use a laissez-faire leadership style where the workplace is characterized by a “let them do/let it be” or “hands-off” approach. Others embrace a transformational style that inspires staff through effective communication strategies and helps create an intellectually stimulating environment. There are numerous more leadership styles. I’ve seen entire books dedicated to defining each leadership style, and then proclaiming to help individuals develop the style that best suits them.

Whatever your leadership style or take on leadership itself, I believe that if we conceptualize leadership as being confined only to those in “leadership” or “authority” roles, not only are we overlooking the potential leaders and leadership capabilities of the many people within our buildings, we are overburdening ourselves as administrators and teachers. It’s no secret. We can’t do it all. And, to be honest, we shouldn’t have to. Like the old adages say, “two heads are better than one” or “it takes a village.” When optimal conditions exist (minimize opportunities for group think, norms for collaboration have been established and modeled, a clear purpose has been established, people are working together for the betterment of children, etc.) the more people working together collaboratively to generate solutions, the better.

I’ve heard of democratic leadership and shared leadership styles that encourage teams to share ideas and input together before making a final decision. I utilize these approaches daily. But, recently, I read about Distributive Leadership. Distributive leadership emphasizes maximizing leadership expertise at all levels to build widespread capacity throughout an organization. It also holds that no one person at the top makes all the decisions. For example, in schools, teachers are empowered to run/operate crucial aspects of a school, such as admissions, scheduling, professional development, and new teacher training and mentoring. Research suggests that one of the main differences between high performing and low performing schools is often attributed to varying degrees of leadership distribution. High performing schools often distribute leadership widely throughout the building.

Personally, I like its focus on interdependent interaction, ownership, and empowerment. I believe teachers should be empowered and encouraged to make the decisions that will impact them and their students most. As a leader, it’s my job to listen to my teachers and include them as we endeavor to improve all our practices. Most importantly, I must trust my teachers and not shy away at the first sign of bumps in the road.

What leadership style do you employ? What leadership style does your administration/manager/boss/etc. utilize? What leadership style do you think works best? Under what leadership style would you enjoy working most?

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Courageous Actions and Conversations: The Most Effective Leaders Are Willing To Do/Say The Things That Others Are Scared To Do/Say

Good/effective leadership is most certainly not always easy. In fact, it can be downright difficult/stressful/heartbreaking/deflating/etc. However, for the sake of helping all the people we serve in our educational organizations (whether it be students, parents, or teachers), we must fully engage in the difficult aspects of being a leader (of which there are many). But, for now, I’m focusing on honest and courageous actions and conversations.

I’m focusing on this aspect of leadership because having difficult conversations with students, parents, or teachers is well within our control (and it’s one of our primary responsibilities) when considering how effective schools function. Whether your difficult conversations highlight necessary cultural shifts in the school or pinpoint areas of poor student achievement, these conversations should be and must be had (how a leader goes about having these conversations is another blog post entirely). However, the leader must be willing and courageous enough to have these conversations. The conversations will be tough, uncomfortable, tense, etc. I recently participated in a PLC workshop a few weeks back. The presenter said something that still resonates with me and I hope will continue to resonate with me throughout my career: “Schools weren’t built for our employment. Schools were built for student learning.” At the end of the day, we’re here to do what’s best for students.

As Todd Whitaker said, “The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate” (obviously, this quote is completely applicable to all leaders throughout a school district, top to bottom). As leaders, if we tolerate bad behavior, low expectations, student mistreatment, disrespect, unprofessionalism (just to name a few), what kind of implicit message does that send the rest of our staff? As leaders, our actions (or inactions) are just as important (and scrutinized) as our words. School culture takes a hit whenever we refuse to address or act on pressing issues facing our students, parents, or teachers. It’s never easy. It’s never fun. However, it’s necessary.

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Teacher Appreciation: Embedding Regular Teacher Appreciation into Your School Culture

It’s that time of the year!  Teacher Appreciation Day/Week!  Yes!!!!!!!!

Teachers do amazing things.  It’s always surprising to me when people are shocked to hear about the many hats/roles teachers wear/perform.  It probably shouldn’t be surprising.  Most of my friends and family are not educators.  Why would I expect them to know any different?  However, I think it’s important to raise awareness regarding this issue.  Teachers don’t just teach anymore (I doubt “just teaching” was ever their sole responsibility).  In addition to teaching, teachers I know often act as a nurse, a social worker, a role model, a mentor, an advice giver, a guidance counselor, a therapist, an actor/actress maintaining high levels of classroom engagement, a volunteer, a fundraiser, a community liaison, a shoulder to cry on, a family man/woman, etc.  I’m not saying that educators have backgrounds in all these areas.  Nevertheless, situations within our schools (or society at large) often require us to take on these responsibilities.

I am striving to build a culture where it’s always an appropriate time to appreciate a teacher.  Appreciating teachers doesn’t have to be scheduled or relegated to a certain time in the year (in fact, it probably shouldn’t be).  As an administrator, I make an effort to show my appreciation for my teachers and teachers in general on a regular basis.  Moving forward, I’d definitely like to get better at this.  Sometimes, my days are so busy that I don’t always get to show my appreciation.  I plan to reprioritize my days in order to better accomplish this endeavor.  Teachers deserve it.

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Calling All School Administrators: Collaborate! Deprivatize Your Practice! Share The Learning!

Dr. Brad Gustafson said, “If school leaders are not modeling effective collaboration, can we really expect teachers to facilitate it for students?” (2017, p. 50). Gustafson went on to say, “School leaders must model collaboration if it is to become part of a school’s culture” (2017, p. 53).

I wholeheartedly agree. I first focus on these questions as they specifically pertain to administrators and teachers (before thinking about the trickle-down effect with students). Can we really expect teachers to facilitate or engage in collaboration among THEMSELVES if we as administrators aren’t modeling it OURSELVES? I can’t help but notice some reluctance or trepidation regarding collaboration in my meetings with fellow administrators. Clearly, effective collaboration takes time, effort, commitment, and support. Therefore, apprehension concerning collaboration is most certainly understandable. Yet, purposeful reluctance or defiance regarding collaboration will only serve to harm teachers, students, and school culture.

In order for us to improve as educators (and improve schools and the field of education itself), collaboration is key. We must become comfortable with collaboration. We must become committed to collaboration. One of the most effective ways to begin this process is through dialogue with other educators. It is essential to deprivatize our practice and share our learning (and failures) with others (I completely understand that this may be difficult when systematic issues in some districts discourage failure and risk-taking, thus hindering trust, the deprivatization of professional practice, and effective collaboration). However, if as an administrator (or educator in general), you don’t personally accept the reality that collaboration is key for improving schools, you will hinder your school’s efforts towards improvement.

In my district, we’ve implemented Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) which, when done well, requires high levels of collaboration, risk-taking, and deprivatization of professional practice. We’ve had lots of bumps in the road. It has not been smooth sailing to say the least. However, we are committed to the process and the reality that, without collaborating, our schools will not improve. I can’t speak for the other administrators in my district. But, I can say that I will stay the course, as I’ve seen wonderful results regarding collaboration in our PLCs. It must be noted, PLCs are not the only avenue through which educators can collaborate. Educators from across the world have collaborated through face-to-face methods and have broken down barriers by collaborating through asynchronous means using social media. Thousands of educators have embraced technology to help build their Professional Learning Networks (PLNs). Embracing technology’s ability to tear down barriers to collaboration is a wonderful example of effective, technology-based collaboration. Teachers and administrators are constantly learning and developing (for free!) by reaching out to their PLNs.

Also, collaboration doesn’t always have to start with the school leader. I’ve read about teachers starting their own collaborative efforts (through traditional methods or by using social media) and the wonderful effects these efforts have had on the entire building. However, it is important to understand that if the school leader does not personally embrace collaboration, this will drastically harm the school’s collaborative culture and its improvement potential.

During my next administrator meeting, I will challenge/encourage my fellow colleagues to not only deprivatize their practice and share the learning, but also collaborate with school leaders inside and outside our district. I will encourage the utilization of traditional and more modern methods (such as collaboration using social media) to help our schools improve. These types of collaboration, when effectively modeled by the school leader, can lead to positive changes for teachers, and eventually have a positive impact on students.

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