Supporting teachers to lead without leaving the classroom

Walker Gamble Elementary School in New Zion, South Carolina has begun to move towards developing leaders across the school, as one  of 12 schools in a statewide Collective Leadership Initiative pilot. Their leadership team began with three people: the principal, Allen Kirby (@WGE_Principal), a fifth grade teacher, Jessica Boyington (@JBMathWGE5), and a fourth grade teacher, Amanda Williamson (@MrsAmandaWGE). They have worked to build the foundation of collective leadership within Walker Gamble, allowing teachers there to lead without leaving their classrooms. Other teachers and staff have also emerged as leaders at Walker Gamble through discovering their craft and gaining enough confidence to guide their peers. We asked them to share about their experiences.


How did collective leadership get started at Walker Gamble?
Allen: When I became an administrator, I knew the importance of staying connected to the classroom and remembering the tremendous impact that a teacher can have on the school. Many teachers are extraordinary leaders, but never get the opportunity to share their expertise. I’ve always felt that teachers are the cornerstone of the school, and their voices should have a direct impact on the vision that is being pursued.
One of my goals as a school administrator has been to include teachers in as many decisions involving the school as possible. I started by creating teams that led and organized school events, as well as made decisions on school policies and procedures. For example, a team of teachers were selected to initiate the Transform SC process. However, after an in-depth conversation, the teachers determined that was not the most beneficial direction for our school. Consequently, the teachers chose to explore other options that would be a better fit for our school and the needs of our students. These were small steps that eventually led to the beginning stages of designing what collective leadership would look like in our school. From there, leadership roles have blossomed and have naturally become embedded into our school culture.

Why collective leadership at Walker Gamble?
Allen: We believe that being a supportive and productive team of knowledgeable professionals will inspire and positively impact our students’ lives.
I believe collective leadership empowers teacher leaders within the school by providing necessary resources, training, and opportunities. Our vision of collective leadership is classroom teachers having opportunities to bring to administration and other stakeholders of our district credible data, opinions, and ideas that will contribute to the success of all of our students.

When does Collective Leadership take place at Walker Gamble?
Jessica: I serve in a hybrid role that allows me to teach and spend time out of the classroom on a weekly basis. Being a math teacher is “my calling,” and the hybrid role allows me to continue to teach, while being a collaborator who offers teacher input on schoolwide decisions. Monday through Wednesday, I am a full time fifth grade math teacher, but Thursday through Friday I have a flexible schedule that allows time for collaboration throughout the school. However, this schedule does not restrain me from working with teachers whenever needed during the week. Along with administrators and Amanda, I present at grade-level meetings during school hours and staff meetings after school. I have the best of both worlds, being a classroom teacher and being a leader.

Amanda: As a classroom teacher, some asked me , “When do you have time to take on a leadership role if you have all the duties of a regular teacher?” The answer is: “Whenever I find time!” I have used my love and passion for technology to lead at Walker Gamble. I present at staff meetings or during grade-level meetings, then provide time in the morning, during my planning period, before or

after school, or any time that I can find to help teachers. I believe that if you’re doing something that engages and excites students, you should share it. We all are leaders, we just need to take the plunge!

Where is collective leadership going at Walker Gamble Elementary?
The future of collective leadership looks promising here at Walker Gamble. As a school, we have received support from our district leaders, as well as local and state stakeholders. We aim to continue the development of teachers as leaders through teacher-led trainings and grade-level collaboration. One goal we would like to meet is continuing to nurture our teachers’ growth mindsets, so they are prepared to take on the ever-changing demands of education. Another goal is to build a nationwide network with other schools and districts who are on the same pathway as we are. With these connections, our teachers will be able to expand their learning, which is a critical component in supporting our students on their journey to becoming 21st century learners.

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Join the conversation:
What do you think about Walker Gamble’s efforts to develop collective leadership? Does your school use a collaborative approach to leadership? If so, what have been the highs and lows of that process? If not, what might it take to bring collective leadership to your school? Is this a scalable and significant trend in the future of education?