Shared Leadership

What is Shared Leadership?

When we think of leaders, we typically imagine an individual or individuals who are positioned at the top of a hierarchy—or “positional leaders.”  While CSSR recognizes that this traditional definition of leadership exists in most organizations, and that effective “positional” leadership is, indeed, critical to school change, we recognize a broader definition of leadership that is shared and distributed.  What we learned time and again is that leadership can pop up in the most surprising places in an organization and that leadership “density” can greatly accelerate the change process.   In the i3 New England Network, we saw exemplary leadership emerge in teachers, site coordinators, administrators, students, parents, and community members.  Having leaders across the organization and community is perhaps the most effective way of ensuring that change will “stick” because many people own it.  Shared leadership focuses on fostering communication, cooperation and collaboration in an organization, and is built on a commitment to realizing both individual and organizational goals.

Shared leadership is especially important in high demand environments like a school, in which there are many moving parts and in which all of those parts are interconnected in some way.  Distributing the leadership across the organization requires a level of sophistication and proficiency that has not previously been expected of those who work in schools.  A student-driven environment requires that new leadership skills be developed across the organization.  In essence, shared leadership changes the culture—the values, norms, and deeply held beliefs that are beneath the surface of day-to-day behavior. CSSR emphasizes the following core elements of shared leadership that serve as the enabler to authentic culture change:

  • Students – students are fully engaged in school change and viewed as partners in the redesign process—having a role on most leadership teams.
  • Compelling Vision – all stakeholders are working in unison towards common and innovative student outcomes.
  • Collaboration – formal mechanisms are in place to provide the entire school community with regular opportunities for structured collaboration.
  • Influence and Energy – school leaders prioritize initiatives and best practices in a way that structures energy and influence towards the activities that have the greatest impact on student achievement.
  • Capacity Building – teachers, students and administrators are not only focusing on tangible classroom practices, but also cultivating the intrinsic behaviors that will sustain change and continue to develop relationships over time.

Developing leadership skills amongst stakeholders happens over time – not through one or two workshops or trainings. It requires an adaptive philosophy and an ability to mobilize people to meet a set of goals and embrace a set of challenges. We have learned that tending to the little habits, routines, practices and processes, and systems of student-driven learning builds people’s sense of efficacy, and can spark significant changes in the school culture. Simply designating individuals as leaders, without directed professional development to give them the tools and authority necessary to act on their own, will do nothing but create resentment and chaos.

Think Energy, Think Influence

Bill Bryan, Ph.D., CSSR’s vice president for leadership and organization development, says that transformative leadership is all about the “human factor.” That is, effective leadership throughout any learning environment is about the ability to influence and manage one’s energy in a way that enhances learning to benefit student achievement.  As part of the culture change process, positional and organic leaders take colleagues and their peers from a current state (where they are accustomed to being) to a place that is very new. In the process, they must create the conditions that allow stakeholders to be reoriented into the new culture and climate. Hear more from Bill Bryan about the leadership and organization development required for transformational school change.1

With a clear vision of what is possible, the journey includes helping students and teachers develop the knowledge, skills, talents and abilities to get to where they need to be – and to get comfortable working in a student-driven learning environment.  Throughout the five years of the i3 New England Network grant CSSR provided coaching, expertise and myriad opportunities for all thirteen schools to embrace the “human factor.”   They were taught to master what Bryan calls “TITE™” thinking:

  • Thinking Influence – helping examine their habits and routines, and creating a framework for what must be done on a regular basis to change the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others.
  • Thinking Energy – helping leaders understand how their habits and routines, when put into practice, influence the culture as a whole and create a purposeful system of implementation.  Effectiveness relies on the leader and his/her teams’ ability to manage how their level of energy is used so that the team is not spread too thin and energy doesn’t become depleted and/or wasted over time.

John Kotter, of the Harvard Business School, suggests that the “central issue at first is never strategy, structure, culture or systems.  The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people.” (Deutschman, 2005).  Not to discredit alignment of strategy and structure for long-term sustainability, CSSR understood that successful school redesign begins with relationship and trust building. We also recognized that each school needed the autonomy to move at its own pace and implement strategies in a way that would meet their own unique needs.  It is important to note that the strategies below looked very different in each learning environment and evolved over time. 

Site Coordinator: A New Role Emerges
When the i3 New England Network was launched, each school designated a Site Coordinator who would serve as the project manager in each school and liaison to the project management team.  Over the five years of the project, however, a far more substantive leadership role emerged.  Some Site Coordinators were classroom teachers, others were principals, but they all became leaders and agents of change.  They pushed the envelope when encountering resistance, became true owners of the change process, and influenced their colleagues. 

 “I think I myself have grown a lot from being part of this grant and being in that role as site coordinator, it pushed me to think about the long term progress of the school… It forced me to take on much more of a leadership role in the school… I think I was able to effect our school in a very positive way and empower other members of our faculty who were kind of sitting on the side waiting for that opportunity.”
Chris Geraghty, Site Coordinator and Social Studies teacher, Kearsarge Regional (NH) High School

 


1 Bill Bryan - Traditional, Transitional & Tranformational Tools video

 

Culture Change and "Big Hitters"

Infrastructure and leadership capacity building are required to support major culture change efforts.  They provide the “how” for the “why and the what” of effective student-driven best practices, and are most responsible for the successful implementation of student-driven approaches to teaching and learning.  The following best practices provide stakeholders with a general roadmap for capacity building and support the design, development, implementation, and sustainability of the school redesign process.  They are meant to be customized to the specific context of each school.

  1. The Discipline of Culture Change – Discipline is required when making change.  It involves both values and specific skills.  The three most essential values are respect, collaboration and ethical behavior because they shape an environment where trust prevails and stakeholders fully invest in the change goals. It is important to assume a stance of active listening.
  2. Focusing & Optimizing What is the Most Important – This may seem obvious, but the multitude of demands and initiatives found in schools create a kind of “initiative fatigue.”  It is essential to understand what initiatives will produce the best results, and then focus resources on doing those few things very well.  All stakeholders, including students, should be part of the conversation about priorities.
  3. Communication & Buy-In – It is a rule of thumb that if a project is not encountering resistance it is not changing anything!  Therefore, leaders must continuously communicate for influence, not just to transmit information.  Conversations across the school unearth an understanding of stakeholder need and resistance; they reveal the communication work that needs to be done because without clear and ongoing support of the majority of stakeholders, the work does not endure.
  4. Team Development – Strong teams are essential to drive and sustain change initiatives.  Teams engender buy-in and provide the supporting structure for the courage to make tough decisions and stick with them.  Teams are the incubators for change!  It’s important to set aside the time for team development; it simply doesn’t happen on its own1
  5. Purposeful Staff and Professional Development – The number one predictor for job satisfaction and productivity is job/role clarity. Having a clear picture of what is expected, along with the skills, knowledge and abilities to implement one’s role with fidelity will optimize performance. This applies to both one’s individual role within an organization, as well as to the role of teams within an organization. Any new practice requires that those implementing it have new and enhanced skills to be successful. Over time, the development of a professional learning community becomes a game-changer, as leaders learn to reflect, refine and revise. Just as students must keep learning, so must all other stakeholders in a school.

 


1 High Performing Team Overview

 

 

From Best Practices to Strategies and Tactics

Over the five-year i3 New England Network project, CSSR discovered that a number of activities were particularly effective at planting the seeds of change providing the focus, momentum, and the mechanisms that drive transformation:

Exploring the Possibilities Through Site Visits and Classroom Observations
It’s easy for school leaders to get caught up in the day-to-day details of running a school or classroom.  As a result, they may not be able to see the forest through the trees and may feel enervated, as opposed to energized, by their work.  The mere idea of change often stokes fear, along with the mindset of “we can’t do that here, with these kids.” By participating in the i3 New England Network, stakeholders were given the time and space to step back and imagine the possibilities of how a different kind of learning environment might better support student learning and development.

One effective method for helping teachers, students and administrators dream is to participate in structured school visits, conversations and authentic learning activities so that they can fully experience the components of a student-driven learning environment.  Visits to schools that are already deeply engaged in the change process allow stakeholders to determine what is most relevant to them. It provides the foundation for a different way of “seeing” their school and a basic blueprint for taking the first steps.  The i3 New England Network provided multiple opportunities for teachers and students to travel to New York City and visit with two lead educators from the New York Performance Standards Consortium1—Joanna Dolgin (ELA) and Avram Barlowe (Social Studies).  During these visits, teachers and students took part in: 1) moderation and calibration studies; 2) roundtable conversations; and 3) inquiry-based classroom performance assessments. Access the CSSR Site Visit Protocol and Guidelines here.2

At the conclusion of the second year of the grant, CSSR partnered with inquiry specialists from the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School – a small secondary school focused on performance-based assessment and personalization of student learning, founded by the late Ted Sizer, founder and long-time director of the Coalition of Essential Schools. Diane Kruse (STEM), Ruth Whalen-Crockett (World Languages) and Lorin Hill (Science) – all current classroom teachers – became mentors and content experts for the i3 New England Network.  Through their mentorship, teachers were able to connect inquiry theory with content specific best practices.  Diane and Ruth allowed teachers to visit their classrooms at Parker and provided training both at Parker, and at the project sites.  They helped teachers build skills to look at student work, facilitate structured conversations using protocols, and evaluate core competencies. 

School Generated Readiness Assessment
As CSSR School Change Coach Tony Ferreira says: “You can’t tell people that everything they have been doing is wrong and expect them to move forward.  They need to have some affirmation that they have done some really purposeful things for kids, and that their entire career has not been wasted.”  In other words, entering a district with an attitude of respect for a school’s history and traditions is a more effective method for engendering change than is a “fixer” mentality. Shining a light on what IS working creates a sense of hope for schools so that they can set priorities, and create strategies and structures that both honor and build on their successes.   As CSSR School Change Coach Margaret MacLean said: “Knowing what that fertile ground is, helps you be authentic around where to start.”

In 2010, CSSR created a Readiness Assessment to better understand what is working purposefully and well in schools, and uncover areas for growth and improvement. The results of a Readiness Assessment were used in the i3 New England Network to create a Network-wide professional development plan that balanced school-specific best practices with practices that could generalize to the project as a whole.  The Readiness Assessment process revealed that the professional development opportunities that were most essential to school change were in the areas of student voice and choice, collaborative skills and practices, performance assessments, and project-based experiences like Extended Learning Opportunities and Senior Projects.

Student Shadowing
It is one thing to read what best practices look like in other schools and districts, but quite another to understand your own stakeholders. Student shadowing is a highly effective method for understanding the daily experience of the “customer.”  The shadowing experience creates a set of faculty/student pairs for a day, during which time the faculty member’s job is to follow the designated student as he or she goes about the day—in the classroom, in the cafeteria, in the school corridors, etc.  This exercise builds a deep empathy for the student experience that is otherwise unattainable.

When student shadowing takes place early in the change process, it typically reveals evidence that much work remains to be done. The experiences ground constructive conversations about the need for change, and allow stakeholders to point to “live” examples of success, as well as inequities or areas for growth.  It organically lays the groundwork for all of the work that follows because it’s grounded in the reality of the school environment.

For example, in the spring of 2014, Chris Motika, Principal of Manchester West (NH) High School, initiated Student Shadowing after having seen it work well at his previous post in a different i3 New England Network site. It turned out to be a transformative moment and a turning point for the school. “As students and teachers, we were amazed at how irrelevant the school day really was.  No wonder people were asleep by period eight.  It was an eye opener from so many perspectives. We saw that the school was not personalized; it was boring.” 

Perhaps the most powerful aspect of Student Shadowing is the debriefing at the end of the day.  At Manchester West, for example, the debriefing stimulated substantive conversation about the workings of the school and enabled those most resistant to change to examine the facts on the ground.  

Initiative Mapping: Assessing Capacity
Virtually every school in the country is spread too thin.  Initiatives and mandates pile on over the years, and there is rarely an opportunity to step back to reflect on what’s working and what’s not. The goal of Initiative Mapping is to help key stakeholders identify, focus on, and allocate the appropriate energy and resources to those efforts - programs, initiatives, and best practices - that drive positive learning outcomes.

The activity’s purpose is to identify where time, resources, and energy are being spent.  Initiatives are defined here as any activity that is new, or reflects efforts to enhance existing processes, programs, or practices.  The Mapping process provides a clear snapshot of how well programs and practices are aligned toward a common purpose.  It also reveals the amount of time spent on efforts that may not be delivering on their promise, which often jumpstarts a much-needed conversation about priorities. 

The Initiative Mapping process asks school stakeholders – including students – to examine all activities/initiatives currently on their plate and question the following:

  • If done well, what is the impact on student achievement?
  • Is the practice high yield?
  • What is the current level of performance?
  • What is the current level of resistance?
  • What level of energy is needed to implement?
  • Is the initiative mandated by local or federal policy?
  • Who “owns” the initiative’s ultimate success?

After groups answer these questions, the Mapping process takes place where each one is ranked, prioritized, and graded against its current level of proficiency.  The findings are always eye opening.  Schools and districts begin to better understand that they are not managing their influence and energy in ways that will benefit students.  Of the more than 100 initiatives that are usually in front of school leaders, very few are advancing learning outcomes to the degree necessary for student success. Analysis and reflection forces a discussion about time, energy, and attention—enabling schools to become more purposeful. 

Creating High-Performing Teams
Teams are critical for shared leadership and an important engine for change. Most schools have too many teams, and they often function at a mediocre level at best.

There is an enormous difference between a high-performing team (HPT) and an ad hoc task team, or a team that lacks a formal structure and charter.  HPTs are characterized by the discipline that comes with a formalized structure, policies, and procedures.  By this definition, most schools do not have HPTs.

Below is a sequence for creating HPTs that CSSR finds to be highly effective.

  • Create the Team & Develop the Purpose:  In each school of the i3 New England Network, two high performing teams were created to serve the redesign process.  The Change Leadership Team’s purpose was to develop and implement key organizational processes and structures that would help support the implementation of change.  The Authentic Assessment Team, consisted of teachers and students, and was tasked with examining student-driven best practices and classroom strategies to improve learning via inquiry-based instruction and competencies.
  • Develop the Infrastructure: Each team developed charters identifying core values and actions, behaviors, and practices around which to organize themselves.  Team facilitation was important, and a set of skill-building sessions around facilitation ensured that the work got accomplished.
  • Check Alignment and Prepare to Get to Work:  The HPTs were a strong mobilizing influence in each school.  In some cases, a small and isolated group of practitioners was able to plant the seeds in such a way that invited their colleagues to the table.  In other cases, schools decided to create one leadership team consisting of representatives of both the Change Leadership Team and the Authentic Assessment Team.  Across the i3 New England Network, schools realized the value of HPTs to align and integrate their work.
     

1 New York Performance Standards Consortium - http://performanceassessment.org/

2 CSSR Site Visit Protocol and Guidelines

 

Implementing with Fidelity and Substainability

Sustainability is about fidelity of implementation.  It requires that school stakeholders closely examine their best practices and determine how they will continue their work beyond the grant-funded period.  To support schools on this path, CSSR designed a “sustainability training” to clarify strengths and limitations, and recognize how best to continue the work.  The goal was for the i3 New England Network schools to say: ‘This is how we now do business.’ According to CSSR’s Bill Bryan, the purpose of the workshop is to provide school leaders with tools that could be helpful beyond the grant, and to support them in creating an action plan.  Continuous improvement is the underlying value of sustainability.

When you unleash the potential of leaders to create the conditions for organizational growth and development, a school becomes a dynamic learning environment for everyone involved and there is broad ownership across the building and beyond. As Peggy Reynolds, site coordinator at Nashua High School North and Nashua High School South said, “There is no way for this work not to continue.  Teachers are invested in it now!”

 

 

Networking as a Shared Leadership Strategy

Through numerous shared leadership opportunities, the i3 New England Network schools were able to move out of isolation into a regional community of learners.  Gregg Sinner, Ph.D., CSSR School Change Coach, saw the main triumph of the project being a demonstration that “schools can derive support from each other across schools and across districts.”

Cross-district work came in the form of three intentional learning communities:  The Performance Assessment Working Group, the Performance Assessment Review Board and the Summer Institute. Through these ongoing communities of practice, shared leadership emerged, as team members refined their skills and owned the change process together.   Cross-site work then carried over to the school-based teams, as members of the i3 New England Network were more comfortable leading change in their own schools.

 

 

Conclusion

The work of the i3 New England Network revealed two key lessons about leadership in general, and about shared leadership in particular. First is that culture change takes time and doesn’t happen in a linear fashion. Second, if leadership is shared across the organization, change may well be happening beneath the surface, but not become visible for some time. Fortunately, the five-year grant provided the time necessary to embed new leadership practices in the schools.  It is important to know that much of the progress was only fully manifested in the last two years of the grant.

Shared leadership helps create the conditions that enable people’s authentic voices to be heard and unleashes not only individual genius, but also the collective genius of the school community at large.