Learning to lead together: Harnessing your change-agent superpower

Leading together is challenging. It requires revolutionized mindsets about how school systems should operate; however, it is the only avenue that will bring about the remodeling of American education to match what our students need. The work is complex because there are no one-size-fits-all solutions (Leftwich, 2006). Rather, it is a matter of consistently “minding the gap” between where we are and where we want to be (Brown, 2012, p. 172).

The most valuable resource we have for leading school reform is the collective capacity of the people within the organization (Hargreaves & Fullan, 2011). Each one of us possesses the power of influence; we can make a profoundly positive impact if leveraged at capacity (Maxwell, 2011). It is our moral imperative as administrators and policymakers to empower practitioners and break through barriers that prevent progress (Gorski, 2018; Theoharis, 2009).

For decades, education reform efforts have failed (Bryk, et al., 2015; Fullan, 2011; Gorski, 2018; Leftwich, 2006; Redding et al., 2018; Theoharis, 2009). We have looked to accountability systems to improve teacher quality, technology to transform learning environments, and a myriad of programs to increase student achievement. Although these efforts have a place in sustaining successful education systems, it has been our fallacy to lead with them (Fullan, 2011). Perhaps we continue to rely on these wrong drivers because they are relatively easy to implement; however, it is urgent that we embrace the right drivers to effectively transform today’s schools.  

Our focus must shift to fostering intrinsic motivation to do the difficult work, a culture of continuous improvement backed by scientifically proven methods, a collective approach to leading schools, and a vision to reach 100% of students (Fullan, 2011). Funded by a grant from Kellogg and a contract with the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE), the Center for Teaching Quality’s (CTQ) partnership with the SCDE has focused on 12 pilot schools in our state to engage in this important work via the Collective Leadership Initiative (CLI). As previewed in the first roundtable post, educators and researchers are working alongside each other to accelerate learning and enact change at school, district, and state levels (Bryk, et al., 2015).

Principal Leonard Galloway of Robert Anderson Middle School (RAMS) in Anderson School District Five promotes a culture where everyone leads together. As a Title 1 school, collective capacity must be harnessed to overcome the challenges faced. RAMS has been an AVID National Demonstration Site (one of three in the state of South Carolina) for the past seven years; the AVID school-wide systems promote academic achievement. Growth data consistently shows that RAMS students learn more than a year’s worth in a year’s time, which contributes to closing the achievement gaps. RAMS has been recognized as a Blue Ribbon Lighthouse School of Excellence (2017) and an International Center for Leadership in Education Model School (2018). Collective leadership has been a key conduit for the progress.

Teacher Advisory

When Lakeside Middle School closed in 2017, 500 students and accompanying faculty merged with RAMS, which grew to 1,300 students and 80 certified teachers. With a larger staff, building a collaborative culture was increasingly difficult but also imperative to school-wide success. Principal Galloway stated, “With collective leadership, everyone has a voice. There is no one person greater than the other, only partners working together to achieve the same goal.”

One way in which we increased teacher voice was through Teacher Advisory. We heard regularly from grade level and department leaders as well as a few outspoken teachers, but we were missing critical voices and collective input. We strategically set four dates and times throughout the school year and invited these teachers to select their preferences before opening up the remaining slots to the whole staff. Each time, Principal Galloway sat around the conference table with 7-10 different teachers. The small group setting led to a comfortable environment for sharing ideas. To focus each Advisory conversation, we chose one of the four AVID domains: systems, culture, instruction, and leadership. We noted strengths and areas of improvement; the summary was always shared with the whole staff. This process was instrumental in driving school improvement efforts.

Teacherpreneurs 

Teacherpreneurs lead without leaving the classroom (Berry, et al., 2013). We need our best educators to continue teaching because they have the most positive impact on student learning; however, administrators must provide opportunities for them to lead without leaving (e.g., adapting the master schedule to accommodate hybrid roles and building teacher leadership capacity through professional learning communities).

RAMS began a voluntary book club for teachers who wanted to develop their teacher leadership skills and explore their own Teacherpreneur path. Initially, 17 teachers joined. We started a Google Classroom for our group and set face-to-face meetings six weeks apart. We created agendas and shared norms to ensure effective use of our time. Discussions centered around reflections from the pre-read chapters of Teacherpreneurs: innovative teachers who lead but don’t leave (Berry, B., Byrd, A., & Wieder, A., 2013). Each teacher began to chart the waves (management roles, coaching roles, collaboration support roles, and teacherpreneur roles) of his or her own leadership pathway (Berry, et al., 2013). A peer consultancy protocol was useful for giving and receiving feedback. There are two dates set for the upcoming semester to continue the forward momentum of empowering Teacherpreneurs in the building.

A leader is someone who voluntarily “holds her or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes;” leadership has nothing to do with one’s title (Brown, 2012, p. 185). Teacherpreneurs embody this philosophy. These are just three of the unique paths embraced by educators from our RAMS community:

Mrs. Smit

Traditionally, grade level and department leaders have been appointed by administrators; however, this year, we opened these positions to applicants. We retooled the roles to involve coaching in addition to management tasks. We conducted interviews and selected Teacherpreneurs. Mrs. Lesley Smit is the new math department leader. She has a vision for conducting instructional rounds with math teachers in math classrooms throughout the building in order to build peer-to-peer efficacy and collectively to determine patterns of strength and improvement areas within the department. Her classroom has been a learning lab as she has co-taught classes with a fellow teacher and piloted inquiry-based learning through stations. She has mentored teachers who have struggled with classroom management by observing their classes and providing real-time coaching through both feedback and modeling.

Mrs. Robinson

About collective leadership, Mrs. Nadia Robinson stated, “Thanks to the supportive nature of the RAMS Leadership Team and the Teacherpreneur group started at our school, I feel comfortable in leadership roles [outside the walls of my classroom] that enhance our school, therefore increasing student achievement.” Mrs. Robinson is the 6th grade level leader. For the upcoming year, we will have three 6th grade teams of six teachers each and an expected 500 students. She has built collective capacity by naming team leaders and involving all grade level teachers in planning efforts for the upcoming year. Mrs. Robinson and Mrs. Erica Shaw, the 7th grade level leader, are involved in a joint project between The Metis Group and Clemson University Youth Leadership Institute to implement classroom practices that support teachers in building rapport with students and managing behavior effectively. These grade level leaders will support colleagues through coaching efforts to scale up these practices school-wide and bolster our culture of achievement.

Mrs. Acker

Mrs. Danae Acker, a 6th-8th grade Technology teacher, is actively charting her own Teacherpreneur pathway. In her words, “Growing up with both parents in education, I knew the traditional routes to leadership positions. This journey of being a Teacherpreneur has shown me differently. With the support of administration and coaching from my mentors, I am able to create my own path while still fulfilling my passion of teaching students daily in the classroom.” We secured a substitute for two days so that Mrs. Acker could meet with core teachers to discuss how the Technology courses could be improved to support student learning. She has led the Technology department to expand the pacing guides and develop common assessments for each course. She has been instrumental in increasing collaboration between middle school Technology teachers within the district. She has plans to create her own education blog based on her experiences and readings. Next school year, Mrs. Acker will partner with Mrs. Melanie Hahn, Digital Integration Specialist, to facilitate growth towards a school-wide goal of utilizing technology effectively, capitalizing on opportunities to learn through collaboration.

These examples of Teacherpreneurs in action at RAMS represent a shift towards leading with the right drivers, which will result in true system-wide transformation. They are invested in reaching all students and are exploring innovative ways to accomplish what packaged solutions cannot. School reform is possible through collective leadership. Organizations that achieve excellence “have no name for their transformation–and absolutely no program;” instead, they share a collective commitment to the improvement process (Collins, 2001). Every school system’s journey is unique, but we can learn fast from each other in order to implement well (Bryk, et al., 2015). How might collective leadership promote sustainable improvements in your school, district, or state education system?

Tiffany W. Osborne’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.

References

Berry, B., Byrd, A., Wieder, A. (2013). Teacherpreneurs: innovative teachers who lead but don’t leave. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York, NY: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L. M., Grunow, A., & LeMahieu, P. G. (2015). Learning to improve: how America’s schools can get better at getting better. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.

Collins, J. (2001, October). Good to great. Fast Company. Retrieved from: https://www.jimcollins.com/article_topics/articles/good-to-great.html

Fullan, M. (2011, April). Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform. (Seminar Series Paper No. 204). East Melbourne, VIC: The Centre for Strategic Education.

Gorski, P. C. (2018). Reaching and teaching students in poverty: strategies for erasing the opportunity gap. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Hargreaves, A. & Fullan, M. (2012). Professional capital: transforming teaching in every school. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Leftwich, A. (2006, July 11). From drivers of change to the politics of development: refining the analytical framework to understand the politics of the places where we work, part 3: final report. London: DFID. Retrieved from: http://www.gsdrc.org/docs/open/doc104.pdf

Maxwell, J. C. (2011). The 360 degree leader: developing your influence from anywhere in the organization. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

Redding, S., McCauley, C., Jackson, K. R., & Dunn, L. (2018). Four domains for rapid school improvement: indicators of effective practice. (Four Domains Series). San Francisco, CA: The Center on School Turnaround WestEd.

Theoharis, G. (2009). The school leaders our children deserve: seven keys to equity, social justice, and school reform. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.