Administrators and Principals: Check Out Our “Treehouse”

Sometimes, it feels as if we teacher leaders are operating in a secret treehouse in the woods of our childhoods, with friends trading insights and baseball cards, generally scheming up ways to make our corners of the world a more meaningful place. Let’s invite administrators into the treehouse to share our insights. Let’s also climb on down and be deliberate about learning more about how the goals of administrators and teacher leaders can mesh more effectively.

Sometimes, it feels as if we teacher leaders are operating in a secret treehouse in the woods of our childhoods, with friends trading insights and baseball cards, generally scheming up ways to make our corners of the world a more meaningful place. We’re a club–perhaps even a clique–of like-minded teachers who want to shake things up, to redesign schools and curriculum, embrace continuous reflection and learning, and promote working conditions conducive for sustained teacher, student, and school success.

The problem is, as long as the clubhouse remains shuttered to other stakeholders like yourselves, it’s hard to get anything done at local levels beyond our own classroom walls. Sure, we teacher leaders can pat each others’ backs, grow our PLNs, read each others’ blogs, and attend conferences for teachers by teachers. But the efforts reach a plateau and stagnate without greater empathy and collaboration with others invested in the system.

Administrators, come on in and check out what we’re up to. Real headway can’t be made in the transformation of teacher leadership and school design, among other initiatives, if we aren’t in the treehouse together. This goes both ways.

Forging personal connections outside of comfort zones often precedes meaningful strategic action, and this is where we sometimes falter as teacher leaders.

We are great at connecting with other like-minded educators via Twitter and other digital platforms like this Collaboratory. We generally know how to seek out audiences of classroom teachers. We talk to other teachers in our buildings much more often that stepping into your office or chatting with you in hallways and classrooms.

I know that the complexity of your jobs makes it nearly impossible for of you to be abreast of all the wins, and deep learning that might be going on inside your school buildings across the country. I also know we can easily fall back on the too busy excuse to set aside structured time to really learn about each others’ challenges. Let’s avoid that trap.

Administrators, did you know that teachers here in the Collaboratory serve as Virtual Community Organizers, bringing together enthusiastic voices in synchronous and asynchronous digital environments to brainstorm solutions to myriad challenges? Did you know that we have dedicated spaces to discuss innovative leadership. school redesign, and teacher evaluation? Did you know that momentum is building for more widespread adoption of Teacherpreneurial roles, in which teachers remain grounded in the classroom but are given the time and space to help bring solutions to scale?

I’m currently reading The Starfish and The Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organization by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. The authors compare and contrast centralized organizations (traditional education structures, to be sure) and more dynamic, flexible decentralized organizations, and there’s plenty to think about how we allocate decision-making in the education system.

The spider represents a highly-centralized organization, where chain-of-command and layers of bureaucracy result in stability, but little change and frustration for those of us–teachers and administrators alike–who’d like to initiate and innovate. On the other hand, starfish organizations regenerate and share power.

Let’s embrace more of a hybrid spider/starfish model, where teacher leaders are given the autonomy to lead and help make decisions in a more fluid, flexible manner. Teachers and administrators, I challenge you to sit down with each other. Listen. Share. Understand. There’s only so much we can do in our various treehouses without inviting others up into our forts, where ideas germinated in relative seclusion often remain in the realm of potential rather than becoming reality.

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  • DeidraGammill

    We need to buy stock in rope! It’s going to be a hot commodity!

    Imagine joining all those treehouses with rope bridges!! Best. Fort. Ever. (And think about the mobility it would create!)

    Paul, I love your blog and how you nailed a very real issue facing teacher leadership. We can collaborate with colleagues all day long, but until we begin collaborating with administrators, there’s only so much we can do to create meaningful change in our profession nation-wide! I look forward to learning more from you and with you in the days to come. 🙂

    • PaulBarnwell

      Baby Steps vs. Great Leaps


      Thanks for stopping by! Unfortunately, there are antagonistic (or at least passive-aggressive) admin/teacher dynamics in many schools, where it’s hard to imagine where collaboration would even begin. Baby steps, I suppose.

      One of the tenets of Teacher-Powered schools that I appreciate is the belief that teachers should be the main group selecting their building leaders–imagine what that would do for collaboration possibilities to start off on the same page like that!

  • ValBrownEdu

    Who Doesn’t Want to Be in a Treehouse?


    Great job getting to the heart of the matter – we need each other, and we are one team! I am literally bubbling over with excitement at the idea of more admin getting involved in the development of teacher as leaders. The possibilities are endless! 

    • PaulBarnwell


      Hey Val,

      I’m pretty pumped, too:).  Do you have any specific strategies to start connecting to administrators?  Administrators, like teachers, are a very busy bunch with complex demands being fired at them from every direction.  But we’ve got to carve out some space and time! 

      I’ve also had a tricky time figuring out if/where many building leaders congregate online. Obviously, there are plenty of principals on Twitter, but as far as reaching a great number in one fell swoop, or targeting publications…it’s tough!

  • KipHottman

    Come join the co-blog fun!


    Love the idea of engaging administrators!  After reading Barry Saide’s co-blog with an administrator some TAC members and various Twitter junkies have decided to push this endeavor with adminstration in various states and try some co-blogging.  How fabulous would it be to get these co-blogs on the CTQ platform!  I think that through the writing process conversations will begin to happen focusing on teacher leadership.  Do you think that is a possiblity in JCPS?  If so, what administrators could we engage and what topics could we possibly co-blog?

  • WendiPillars

    Such a valuable “baby step”

    Such a valuable “baby step” in getting more buy-in, establishing credibility, and most importantly (from what I’ve seen), the value of feeling like a true partner in this “teacher leadership thing”. Even inviting admin to co-blog sounds like a wonderful step to understand what drives admin in their thinking, and to break it down in ways that allow us to see more possibilities. 

    Of course, it demands couth and a lack of patronization–and needs to be genuine. Reflection and figuring out how to do so in our own individual contexts is a fantastic way to open dialogue with those who have up to now been outside our comfort zones….

    Thanks for the though provocation and a wonderfully visual post!

    • Nicole Huff

      English, Reading, Resour

      Yes! We need to bring teacher leaders and administrators to the same table, on the same even playing field and begin brainstorming and problem solving.