Three of Eight: Shared Leadership

How hard is it to share tasks and decisions when you know that you are ultimately the person responsible? What does it take to “share” leadership?  In both my work and personal life, I have struggled with this; wanting to do more than I should, be in control more often than I ought to be and really needing to learn how to share the load.

Today, I am pulling from my archives and sharing an earlier post with you for two reasons: one, it was one of the most read posts of all of my blogs and second, it aligns with chapter three of our book, Leading with Intention ( Jeanne and I wrote this chapter to focus on the “shared” leadership that happens in successful schools and the following blog truly highlights this important piece of school improvement:

I know school and district leaders struggle with this daily:  I work with leaders who have a hard time finding a way to empower others, accept that they do not have to have all of the answers and that a collaborative leadership style will be more effective than if they go it alone.  Sometimes the struggle is so real for them that they just can not get there and they really do try to do it all.  As honorable as this leadership style can be, it isn’t what I encourage when I am working on site as a school improvement coach. Part of my task is to ensure that school leaders understand how to establish and work with a leadership team. We often refer to this as a guiding coalition.

I want to introduce you to a school administrative team who, in my opinion, have become “experts” in creating, implementing and authentically using a shared leadership model.  Our road trip this week takes us to Morrilton, Arkansas, home of beautiful Petit Jean State Park and my friends at the Morrilton Intermediate School. I want to introduce you to Sarah Stobaugh, first-year principal and Anna Henderson first-year assistant principal. IMG_2286They are joined by Janet Carner who is the Instructional Facilitator at the school. (Ms. Janet missed the photo opp.).  These three women are rocking my world as their coach.

With each of my visits this school year, I have watched them learn and grow together as leaders, first “sharing” leadership with each other and then expanding their need for a school wide leadership team.  As we continued to work together, they deepened their understanding of what they needed from others in a leadership role.  The existing leadership team was provided with the description of the role and responsibilities that Sarah and her administrative team wanted and the teachers could decide to stay on the the team or go. As Anna said, “Early in the school year we laid out our expectations and asked them to truly consider the commitment and if they were willing to dedicate the extra time and energy toward doing what’s best for our school. The week we waited to hear back from them all was pretty nerve-racking. Fortunately, they all chose to come back. Having the personal investment and ownership from them has been a huge game changer. We are meeting weekly as a leadership team and have become ultra focused on the right work for our kids. We are changing the way we think about everything— always asking ourselves, “what’s best for kids?”.

If you are a principal reading this and you are still struggling with the purpose and benefit of an authentic shared leadership model for your school, consider what Principal Sarah has said about her experience this year:

    “If I didn’t believe in shared leadership and building capacity in others in order to affect change before, this year has proven its importance and made a believer out of me.  We did not gain the momentum we have now until we focused on our leadership team. The first step we took was to define the role and make sure we were all in agreement as to what a leader is.  The felt need has been created by the leaders, and that is the only way we can be successful.”

I am so proud of Sarah. As a brand new principal, she could have decided to leave things as they were and not really dug in to understand just what a leadership team could do to move the collaborative work forward in the school.  As Janet said to me, “The teachers are really understanding our purpose and each of them takes their new learning back to their own collaborative teams. As a school we are becoming more evidence based as the leadership team practices using data before they expect others to do it with them at their grade and content level teams.”

As two of the teachers on the leadership team said to me, “We are learning from each other. We are are not asking people to change everything that they do, we are just asking each other to do better.” It might be just the right time to consider how you will share leadership for the 2019-2020 school year. What can you do to begin selecting the right people to be part of this team and what can you do right now to build excitement and energy around a shared leadership model?  Don’t go it alone.

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