Sustaining the Principalship Via Shared Practices IV

Part IV (of VII)

The use of shared leadership practices empowers teachers and raises student achievement.


Empowerment is a constructive byproduct of shared leadership.  Dee, Henkin, and Duemer (2003) found that “empowered teachers with increased motivation, enhanced feelings of meaning, and strong organizational commitment are at the root of dynamic school progress.”  They supported the use of shared leadership as a collaborative structure through which educators and schools can reach their goals.

While comparing directive leadership with participative leadership, Somech (2005) found that shared practices enhance teacher performance through two motivational mechanisms: organizational commitment and teacher empowerment.  Somech’s study supported previous research that noted to improve teacher innovation, “they need to be recognized as experts in their fields, have input about what they do and how they do it, feel that they are engaged in meaningful work, and be respected by others.”  This further illustrates the dynamic nature of shared leadership and its effect on student achievement.

Student Achievement

The link between leadership and student achievement has been explored in several noteworthy studies.  In 2003, Waters, Marzano, and McNulty conducted a meta-analysis that examined the effects of leadership on student achievement.  They found significant correlations between leadership and student achievement.  Specifically, they found correlations among many factors that are associated with shared leadership including:  culture, communication, affirmation, relationships, and intellectual stimulation.

Lambert conducted a study on high leadership capacity schools in 2006 and discovered that challenging schools made tremendous improvements through shared leadership and a professional culture.  In many cases, this allowed them to remove the “low-performing” designation assigned to their schools.  The schools in their study, “stopped at nothing to improve student learning.”  Approaches to problem solving revealed a strong sense of collective responsibility in the schools.  The principals led from the center or side with an emphasis on facilitating and co-participating rather than on dominance.

In 2010, Seashore Louis et. al. found a positive link between educational leaders and student learning outcomes.  They found that student achievement is higher in schools where principals share leadership with teachers and the community. The study, funded by the Wallace Foundation, provides some of the most compelling evidence related to shared leadership and student achievement.  The researchers examined collective, shared, and distributed leadership effects on teachers, students, and principals.  Their findings suggest that when leadership is used as a shared property by parents, teachers, principals, and staff members, students achieve at higher levels.

Sustaining the Principalship Via Shared Practices III

Part III (of VII)

Principals who utilize shared leadership practices enhance vision and trust.


Shared leadership and the development of a living and meaningful vision are closely linked.  Skillful leaders focus their attention on the key aspects of a school’s vision and work to communicate that vision clearly (Leithwood & Riehl, 2003).  They emphasize new possibilities and promote a compelling vision of the future due to their own strong sense of purpose (Tucker & Russell, 2004).

Traditional views of leadership are based on an assumption of powerlessness, which diminishes the potential of vision.  In organizations truly dedicated to learning, vision is cooperatively developed with all stakeholders (Leech & Fulton, 2008).  With shared leadership, no one is asked to sacrifice his or her personal interests to the team; rather “the shared vision becomes an extension of each individual’s personal vision” (Senge, 1990).


The concept and application of trust is central to shared leadership.  When principals share leadership, they raise trust levels throughout their community.  Daly and Chrispeels (2005) explored trust and efficacy in relation to moving schools from deficit orientations to strengths-based approaches.  They noted that trust “can ameliorate organizational stress.”  They added that trust alone is not enough, “individual and collective beliefs of efficacy are also necessary strengths-based components for building school capacity.”  They identified trust, efficacy, and positive psychology as essential in developing positive organizations.

The relationship between trust and shared leadership is reciprocal, which makes it difficult to isolate within the context of shared leadership.  In 2008, Slater studied how principals use communication strategies to foster the empowerment of stakeholders within the context of collaborative initiatives.  The researcher noted that traditional hierarchical approaches to leadership are “less likely to involve shared leadership norms that promote collaboration and resultantly enhance trust.”

Sustaining the Principalship Via Shared Practices II

Part II (of VII)

Why Shared Leadership?  

What is it about a shared leadership model that makes it appealing to administrators, teachers, and school communities? If school leaders commit to using the strengths of their staffs to guide site-based decisions, how will their schools benefit?  There is increasing evidence that shared leadership impacts many aspects of school culture and student performance.  Six specific effects seem to be markedly enhanced through the use of shared leadership practices.  The first two are communication and collaboration.


The importance of developing relationships is a common theme for schools seeking to improve the academic achievement of all students.  Nevarez and Wood (2007) found that schools rich in respect and a sense of community promote solid relationships and communication.  They argued that urban school leaders can change school conditions by developing proficient and culturally competent teachers and administrators.  Additionally, they noted that communication is enhanced through “positive school culture, inter-organizational confidence, and respect” (p. 274).  These attributes are closely aligned with, and enriched by, shared leadership practices.


Shared leadership practices lead to collaboration and collegiality among staff members.  In 2009, DuFour and Marzano identified high-leverage strategies for principals that clearly established the need to create structures to ensure that collaborative time for teachers focuses on issues and questions directly related to student learning.  DuFour and Marzano share a vision for school leadership that celebrates the collaborative team process.  They encourage principals to “spend less time supervising and more time working collaboratively with teams to examine student learning and help more students achieve at higher levels” (p. 68).

Marks and Printy (2003) also viewed the principal as key in sharing leadership and promoting active collaboration.  They investigated the connection between school leadership and student performance, as well as the potential for active collaboration around instructional matters to enhance the quality of teaching and student performance.  They found that active collaboration around instruction and assessment leads to significant school improvement.

Sustaining the Principalship Via Shared Practices I

Part I (of VII)

Many principals realize that the requirements of the job are too big for one person.  The management responsibilities alone can overwhelm even the most veteran leader.  Finding the time to focus on instructional leadership requires strong organizational and planning skills.  If principals are to meet the increasing expectations placed upon them by local, state, and national initiatives, they will have to consider utilizing the strengths and skills of the teachers in their buildings.

Reforming and revitalizing schools requires creative school leaders who recognize the wealth of talent and expertise within their own schoolhouse walls.  Shared leadership practices offer the modern principal the tools needed to drive effective instructional change.  Shared leadership is the most effective tool for sustaining the principalship and the success of schools.  Used pragmatically, shared leadership builds a culture that relies on everyone rather than a single heroic figure.

What Is Shared Leadership?

While the definition of shared leadership seems apparent, it has been refined by scholars over the past twenty years.  Shared leadership refers to, “a team property whereby leadership is distributed among team members rather than focused on a single designated leader”(Carson, Tesluk, & Marrone, 2007, p. 1217).  It is defined broadly to denote the influence of teachers through their participation in school-wide decisions with principals (Seashore Louis et al., 2010).

The terms shared leadership, distributed leadership, collaborative leadership, collective leadership, democratic leadership, and leaderful practice are used interchangeably to describe the practice of decentralizing leadership.   A common distinction between shared leadership and traditional forms of leadership is that the process of shared leadership includes peer or lateral influence (Bligh, Pierce, & Kohles, 2006).  A distributed model of leadership centers on the interactions of individuals, rather than the actions of those in formal and informal leadership positions (Harris & Spillane, 2008).

Share Your Leadership to Build Teacher Capacity

The following excerpt is from an article I wrote for Principal magazine.  It appeared in the 2013 May/June edition on closing the achievement gap.

It would be difficult to imagine any school succeeding at eliminating the achievement gap without a philosophy centered in the values of collective responsibility.  Leadership that is shared is exponentially more effective than leadership that comes from position.  Principals must be willing to share leadership with teachers, staff members, and parents if they truly seek to have all students succeed.

The relationship between shared leadership and student achievement is clear.  In 2010, a study by Seashore-Louis et al. and funded by the Wallace Foundation found solid relationships between the level of shared leadership in schools and the achievement of students.  In Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning, the researchers noted that they were unable to find a single case of student achievement improving without talented leadership in place.  Their key finding suggests that when teachers and principals work collaboratively, and relationships are strong, student achievement is higher.

The principalship is too big to expect that one heroic leader can be the sole reason a school makes gains toward eliminating the achievement gap.  Principals must find ways to value and include the perspectives of everyone who has a stake in the growth of the students.  When principals seek support from teachers, students, staff members, parents, and the community, they start a cycle of empowerment that can be a catalyst toward true academic success.

Middle Child Syndrome

“An average school I would want my children to attend”

The following excerpt recently appeared in the Washington Post in Valerie Strauss’ column, The Answer Sheet, under the heading above.  Its author, Craig Hochbein, is an assistant professor of educational leadership in the College of Education at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.

“J-town represents what is wrong with current judging and ranking of schools. Like many schools across the country, J-town will not be identified as a persistently low-achieving school, nor cited as a top school in the state. For many educators, this limbo-like designation has become welcomed camouflage. This lack of attention allows them to not only keep their jobs, but also provide meaningful educational lessons to future business leaders, doctors, military personnel, and educational researchers. The current state of accountability has put a premium on being left alone.”

Hochbein accurately describes a condition that most schools are very familiar with.  It’s the educational equivalent of “middle child syndrome.”  While challenging schools continue to receive the resources they need (no it’s not enough), and high performing schools excel regardless of their support, it is schools in the middle that have been left to fend for themselves.

For years we have seen an educational “whac-a-mole” approach to school funding.  As federal and state funds have withered, districts have been forced to shift funds to the schools with the most need.  No one would argue whether persistently low-achieving schools need support, but where does that leave schools mired in the middle?  It leaves them out.  It also places a heavy burden on passionate teachers and school leaders.

Fortunately, these schools are not waiting for the cavalry to come.  They are doing incredible work with limited resources.  Teachers in these schools see their jobs as a calling.  They put in long hours, foster meaningful relationships with students, and look for any and all available resources to support their teaching.  Yet, just like the middle child, they are often ignored and overlooked for their efforts.

Accountability in the Common Core era must include ways to acknowledge these unsung heroes and “average” schools.  Let’s celebrate the excellent teaching that happens every day in these schools.  Let’s stop ignoring the “middle child.”

See full Washington Post article below:

Re-imagining Mission and Vision Statements

Many schools address their mission and vision statements on an annual or biannual basis.  The process is worthwhile as it provides clarity and direction for teachers, support personnel, and administrators.  It is the process itself that is often most beneficial.  Mission and vision statements that are developed collaboratively foster common beliefs, goals, and actions.

There is, however, one potential step that might add value to the process of developing a mission and vision statement.  Prior to initiating the mission and vision process, schools should consider developing a staff manifesto- a public declaration that describes the goals of a group.  A staff manifesto is an agreement on how the adults in the building will treat each other.  It outlines the expectations colleagues have for each other and sets the bar on how professionalism is defined.  Here is an example of a working staff manifesto:

  1. We are caring individuals from diverse backgrounds with unique talents and knowledge who work collaboratively to provide a quality education to all students.
  2. We are AWESOME!!!
  3. We will respect each other’s individuality.
  4. We will support each other in a professional, collaborative manner.
  5. We bring our own talents and beliefs to work for the success of all parties.
  6. We interact respectfully and professionally with the students, staff, and community.
  7. We expect our leaders to include us in making meaningful decisions.
  8. Our leadership will ignite the fire that burns in the engine of our well-oiled teaching machine.
  9. We hope to be caring and compassionate about our students in order to inspire and motivate students to become lifelong learners.
  10. We hope to be more connected to all staff members by having opportunities to interact throughout the school year.

This example illustrates how the adults will work together in a building.  As a collaborative product, it lays the groundwork for any mission or vision statement that might follow it.  Before determining what a school can do for its students, it must decide how it will operate as an organization.  Once the manifesto is developed, it should be displayed in areas where the staff will see it daily (staff lounge, restrooms, meeting rooms etc.).  It then serves as the foundation for writing a meaningful mission and vision statement.

Re-imagine it this way:  Manifesto first, Vision next, then Mission.

Why Common Sense?

So, why call a blog Common Sense School Leadership?  As far back as I can remember, when it comes to following someone, all I have ever wanted is to be led by someone with common sense.  It seems like a simple and practical wish.  Common sense leaders are confident in their ability, but also keenly aware that they don’t know it all.

Leaders with common sense have a balanced perspective on life and work.  They work hard and play hard and they never take themselves too seriously.  Common sense leaders protect their employees in the way that Todd Whitaker discusses in his book, Shifting the Monkey.  Common sense leaders intuitively know how to motivate, inspire, and challenge those who work for them.

Can anyone be a common sense leader?  Probably not, common sense is hard to teach.  You might be a common sense school leader if…

-your first thoughts are always centered on what’s best for students when solving problems.

-you see teachers as leadership assets in your building.

-you recognize your own power and reflect on whether your decisions are based on protecting or maintaining that power, or what’s best for your students and staff.

-you allow for some wait time before making important decisions.

-you value laughter and it can be heard throughout your building.

-you lean on others for advice and seek it out when you’ve made a mistake.

-you trust others, even before they’ve earned it.

Common sense leadership is needed now more than ever.  The number of changes occurring in schools across the country requires common sense leadership that can help students, teachers, and parents understand it all.  How about if we all try to be the common sense school leaders our communities deserve?