Collaboration 2.0: A call for collective leadership

After 15 years in the field of education, including 10 (going on 11) years in the classroom, I still love my job. Though I entered the field through an alternative licensure route, I stayed because of the support, collaboration, and encouragement of colleagues, master teachers, school leaders, parents and families, and most of all, students themselves.

Despite our digitally connected world, teaching, in too many places, can still be incredibly isolating. With far too many teachers feeling alone and solely responsible for the learning environment in their classrooms, I believe we can solve many systemic issues — from teacher retention to the achievement gap — if every state, district, school, and classroom reimagined education as a collective endeavor.

The challenges our students face are great. And the need for collective leadership to problem solve these challenges — from teacher retention issues to limited school funding to  outdated top-down leadership structures — even greater.

Over the past two months, bloggers have shared powerful examples of collective leadership in different contexts and at different levels in the current roundtable.

CTQ’s founder and CEO Barnett Berry launched the conversation in his post Collective Leadership: Leading the Schools of Tomorrow. He outlined three principles to move schools beyond shared or distributed leadership toward collective leadership, “where teachers and administrators together inform, inspire, and influence colleagues, parents, policymakers, and other stakeholders to improve student outcomes [1].”

Tiffany W. Osborne, an NBCT and Associate Principal who is co-leading a middle school in South Carolina, shared how her school is working to scale collective leadership. Through the creation and implementation of a Teacher Advisory, as well as a master schedule that allows for some practitioners to work in hybrid teacherpreneurial roles, the school is shifting toward “leading with the right drivers, which will result in true system-wide transformation.”

Beyond individual schools, collective leadership is also gaining traction at the district and state levels. In Colorado, Commissioner of Education Katy Anthes developed a “Teacher Cabinet” of practitioner advisors from across the state who teach and lead in rural, suburban, and urban school settings. In her words, “The Teacher Cabinet has demonstrated to me over and over again this past year that not only can we do more together, we can think more deeply, plan more carefully, and act more strategically and empathetically when we work together.”

And Molly Spearman, the South Carolina’s State Superintendent of Education, launched the CLI (Collective Leadership Initiative), in partnership with CTQ, and is piloting the approach at 12 schools. Teams of administrators and teachers are working together to create systemic change, and learning that authentic collective leadership is an approach or a process, not a product or program.

These stories serve as local and national models of collective leadership. Through conversations, collaboration, ideation, and collective problem solving, these schools, districts, and states are working together in new ways to meet the needs of the students and communities they serve. Moving beyond hierarchies, titles, and the designation of a few teacher leaders, these systems are honoring all voices and taking collaboration to new levels through collective leadership.

We want our students to be college and career ready. A key component of this readiness is their ability to contribute to a collective endeavor. It’s time our school systems mirror this style of leadership.

Wondering where to start?

  • Embrace, model, and celebrate vulnerability. From district and state level leadership positions to individual classrooms, create a culture where asking for support is welcomed, accepted, and expected. No part of the system needs to work in isolation when expertise is often just a hallway, a phone call, or an email away.
  • Seek out and listen for constructive feedback and solutions. When seeking stakeholder input and moving toward collective leadership, talk less and listen more. It is not enough to invite a range of voices to the leadership table unless there is an authentic willingness to listen to and create action plans based on the input of the collective voices.
  • Ideate (and prototype) quickly and often. Use the principles of design thinking to move from collective input to action. Ideate and prototype solutions frequently to field test ideas and streamline processes and structures in your setting based on students’ needs. Being a part of this generative work will engage, motivate, and inspire members of the community, and increase buy-in for the collective leadership approach.

I wouldn’t have survived my first years of teaching without the collective support of colleagues, parents and my mentor teacher who had a deep expertise in not only pedagogy and content, but also in the strengths and growth areas of the school’s culture. And I wouldn’t be in the classroom today if I had to go it alone.  

No educator should have to go it alone.

Jessica Cuthbertson’s post is part of CTQ’s July and August blogging roundtable on Collective Leadership. To join the conversation, comment on this blog and read the other blogs in this series. You can find an updated list of all posts on the Collective Leadership Roundtable landing page. Follow CTQ on Facebook and Twitter to see when each new blog is posted, and use #CTQCollab to join the conversation on social media.

To learn more about how CTQ can help your team integrate collective leadership click here or contact us here.

[1] Eckert, J. (2018). Leading together: Teachers and administrators improving student outcomes. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

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