School Leadership is not a singular thing. It is not simply having lines under you on an org chart. It is not just making proclamations or laying out an agenda for others to accomplish. It is not only having more responsibilities or feeling accountable for other’s actions. No, Leadership exists as a continuum, as a range of what is possible and whom it is possible for.
And it is the “whom” of this equation that is most interesting to me. Traditionally, formalized school leadership has been held within very few hands. Sure, the informal power that exists with administrative assistants and custodial staff is well documented, but in terms of autonomy to make big decisions, the Principal and her surrogates reserved those right exclusively.
One group in DPS is changing that. They are making it so many more people have the ability to lead within a school, and they are actively working to create a culture of Leadership among teachers. In fact, when I met with Justin Darnell of the Teacher Learning and Leadership Department and he outlined what the Leadership continuum looked like, I was struck by just how much of a plurality he was reaching.
By formalizing roles like Collaborative Team Lead and New Teacher Mentor, the picture of leadership across a school becomes more clear. It was refreshing to hear that learning and community was a focus as well, creating networks of Teacher Leaders who can and are supporting one another. After hearing Justin speak, it almost seems obvious. It was like saying, “Why wouldn’t we create additional ways for teachers to think and act strategically? Why wouldn’t we ensure that teachers can level up their leadership skills and take on new challenges as their careers mature?”
It is a testament to how Justin’s team is framing the work, though. Rather than focusing on formal leadership “losing power,” the focus has become creating an Learning Organization. Creating a culture of adult learning and reflective practice is no small task, but I believe by showing the full continuum of what Leadership looks like, we are opening the possibilities for more great teachers to both stay in the classroom with additional responsibilities and freedom to find new opportunities. We also eliminate a top-heavy model and focus our efforts on flattening our schools and tearing down the walls of our classrooms.
I believe that is something we can all find ways to support within our own work as well.