1. Understanding your team’s why

The work of leading schools is too complex for any individual educator to do alone. In fact, even in 2013 more than 75 percent of administrators agreed or strongly agreed that the job of leading a school has become too complex to be done well by any one person. Not unlike what has happened to teachers, administrators have had additional roles and responsibilities layered onto their roles. Most school administrators are expected to carry out all of the responsibilities of chief executive officers, chief operating officers, chief financial officers, chief strategy officers, personnel directors, wellness directors, community liaisons, marketing directors, and let’s not forget — instructional leaders.

In addition to administrators’ jobs becoming undoable, one in four teachers is interested in leading improvement efforts within their schools. Teachers are one of the largest college-educated workforces in the United States, with a large percentage holding advanced degrees. Yet, the job of teacher as most conceive it is rarely structured to leverage the intellectual and leadership capacities of the teaching professionals. Redesigning the way that teacher and administrator work is structured so that all educators (teachers and administrators) can help collectively lead school improvement efforts is a better means by which to leverage all of the human resources in a school.

The most significant driver for collective leadership should be that the world we live in and the one we are preparing our students for no longer operate with industrial structures that still exist in our schools. If we are indeed supporting our youth to be prepared for and actively engaged in our society, then school structures need to more closely model the collaborative, creative, and solutions-oriented world in which they live.

Goal: Establish a theory of action

To make the shift towards collective leadership, a team of stakeholders should develop a compelling why for engaging in this work. That why, like all of the other work outlined in this playbook, should be collectively developed by members of the school community. During this initial conversation, the team needs to identify its core beliefs about why collective leadership is important and how it will benefit students, teachers, and any other individuals impacted by this shift.

  • What does your team believe about the currently existing teaching talent within your school? To what extent does your team believe that teachers can also lead school improvement efforts?
  • What does your team believe about the collective capacity of the adults in your school to meet the needs of students in your care?
  • What does your team believe about the capacity of students to learn when all of the adults involved in their schooling take ownership of that learning?
  • Why would you let go of traditional top-down structures? What will you say no to so that you can make space for collective leadership? What will you say yes to?
  • When collective leadership is fully implemented in your school, how will things be different? What will be better?
  • What is your team’s theory of action for how collective leadership can impact your school?
Important Tasks

View Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Discuss how the key concepts from this video can be applied to your collective leadership efforts.

Identify a core group of stakeholders that will be charged with identifying the initial why for collective leadership implementation.  Develop and implement a process for the collective creation of the why for collective leadership implementation in your context. Be sure that the process reflects collective leadership in both its development and execution.

Create a plan for how the why for collective leadership will be communicated across the school community. What process might your team use to create ownership of the shift to collective leadership, rather than requiring buy-in?

Complete the graphic organizer below to help your team set the vision for collective leadership implementation. What should people think, see, say, hear, and feel when collective leadership is fully implemented in your school?


Create your team’s theory of action about how collective leadership implementation will impact your school.

Connect and collaborate
Teams frequently struggle with developing a theory of action. Remember to articulate your goal and identify the problem of practice before developing the theory of action.

Need help crafting a theory of action? We would love to support your efforts.

2. Designing your how

Goal: Prepare to lead action

Are you ready to create a plan for how your team will begin to implement collective leadership? Remember that clearly articulating your team’s why and including others in the co-creation of the process will create a sense of ownership.

What will you take on first? Who should be involved? What is the timeline?  How will you measure success?

Big Questions
  • How will stakeholders at the school be engaged in the development of implementation plans for collective leadership? How might collective leadership be modeled during the development process?
  • How will educators be supported to learn the new knowledge and skills needed to effectively implement the adaptive shift to collective leadership?
  • How might school community members’ (staff, students, families, etc.) behaviors and roles be expected to change as a result of the implementation of collective leadership?
  • How will the school community collectively develop the anticipated and expected behavioral shifts together?
Important Tasks

Deepen your team’s understanding of technical vs. adaptive change.  Apply knowledge gained about adaptive vs. technical change to the school setting by clearly identifying the new knowledge, skills, and roles that will be needed to implement collective leadership.

Discuss what will change as a result of collective leadership implementation. What will teachers and administrators do differently individually and collectively? Anticipate where challenges might arise as a result of this shift and create agreements about how those challenges will be addressed.

Create a plan for how you will approach working on the different system conditions. Decide the order in which you will work on the conditions. Set aside focused, intentional time within your current structures to work on these guides.

Review the resources found in the Planning a pilot micro-credential as your team prepares to work through the other guides in this playbook. The processes from this micro-credential can be applied as you begin piloting ideas for strengthening each of the collective leadership conditions.

Is your team interested in support for preparing to lead the shift toward collective leadership? Feel free to reach out to us for support.

3. Implementing your plan

Now that the team has articulated the why and how for the move toward collective leadership, it is time to implement your team’s plan.

We have found that school teams that experience the most success as they move to collective leadership structures are those that ground their work in specific problems of practice. Collective leadership in and of itself will not make a difference in your school unless it is used to address a specific need within your school. The specific needs and/or problems of practice serve as your what for collective leadership.

Some examples of needs or challenges include:

  • How do we build meaningful, productive relationships with every student and every colleague?
  • How do we increase teacher efficacy and engagement in every teacher in order to increase student achievement?
  • How can we help teachers feel confident to share what they are doing well and reflect on their practice collaboratively?
  • How might we implement effective collaboration strategies to align to the Profile of an SC Graduate?
  • How do we facilitate the spread of expert practice across the faculty at our school?
  • How do we implement teacher-led professional learning that balances autonomy with structure?

Once the team has identified a problem of practice that can be addressed through collective leadership, then the team can go about designing the what of collective leadership roles and responsibilities.

What does your team need to do to implement and learn from the plan?

The implementation phase of the work is about much more than carrying out the components of your team’s plan. In order to ascertain the effectiveness of the plan, data must be collected for evaluation. It’s helpful to remind yourself of your original goals as you prepare to gather the feedback needed.

Goal: Launch your team’s test, gather data, and study the results

Once the initiative is underway, gather the data needed to answer your burning questions. Analyze the data and results of your initiative. Decide whether your team wants to revisit the condition your team has been working on or move on to another condition.

Big Questions
  • What challenge is the school seeking to address through the implementation of collective leadership? What need is your team trying to meet through collective leadership?
  • What benefits does your team intend to see for educators and students?
  • Are there other intended beneficiaries of collective leadership? If so, who are they, and what benefits does your team intend?
Important Tasks

Identify a small pilot group to start testing the implementation of collective leadership structures. We strongly suggest that the test group be structured so that educators opt in. Mandating collective leadership through top-down directives is not likely to create the conditions for successful implementation.

Have the test group identify a challenge or problem of practice to be addressed via collective leadership implementation.

Now that you have the why, how, and what for shifting to collective leadership, let’s take a deeper dive into the seven conditions that support collective leadership by initiating work on one of the strategy guides.

Want help creating and implementing a plan for collective leadership?