Tips for School & District Administrators

Going Beyond Delegation: How Administrators Can Share Leadership with Teachers

By Brian Gatens

Switching from teacher to administrator schooled me in the immense complexities of leadership at both the school and district level. It also taught me to share the load.

In the summers of my teaching years, I always liked to head into school to get my classroom ready for the coming school year. By mid-August, there was always a pile of new books, school supplies, and other helpful items on my desk. My colleagues and I would joke among ourselves that the Book Fairy had arrived. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it now, but back then I had no idea how much behind-the-scenes preparation went into getting our school up and running each school year.

While working as an administrator opened my eyes to a leader’s workload, it also taught me the benefits of developing a shared-leadership model. As author and lecturer Alfie Kohn likes to say, “People work best when they feel that the work is being done with them, and not to them.” As a realist, I understand this because of legal and confidentiality issues, some leadership tasks must remain solely in the hands of administrators. Rather than focus on what can’t be done though, let’s look at what can be done:

1. Include teachers early and often

Schools run on set yearly calendars. As each month comes up, effective school administrators know the short-term and long-term goals for that month, and should look for opportunities to bring teachers into the decision-making process on those goals. For example, our school purchases an academic planner for every student in grades four to eight. This provides a nice opportunity for the staff to get involved in the selection of that item and to engage in deeper conversations about the focus of the school’s academic mission.

2. Schedule formal and informal meetings

As part of our regular schedule at school, I have a formal meeting with our teacher leaders every other week to discuss topics of importance, but I also maintain a practice of holding informal meetings on an as-needed basis. This practice creates both a formal structure so communication remains open, but also has the ability to address new topics as they arise.

3. Widen involvement in the hiring process

One of the most important tasks at a school is creating an efficient and effective structure for hiring decisions. At our school, previous administrations had minimal teacher involvement in hiring, but I have started getting my staff involved in the group-interview stage of our hiring process. While we use preset questions to ensure fairness in the process, staff members are encouraged to ask questions they feel are relevant.

We attempt to have two staff members join us — one at the grade level and one in the same instructional topic — in these interviews. We also try to include veteran teacher leaders in our new staff-induction process in both formal (at our orientation) and informal ways. This helps to foster a culture of openness and welcome for our new staff.

4. Let faculty needs drive professional development

After playing a role in the hiring of new staff members, another important role that our teachers play is to be actively involved in our district’s professional development needs. This includes reaching out to staff to see what topics are identified as needed and also the best way to deliver the information to the staff. It’s essential for staff members to feel included in this process.

5. Foster ownership, but take responsibility

While it’s important to the healthy functioning of a school to have staff members take part in shared leadership opportunities, please remember that as the school administrator, you ultimately own the outcome of your work with the staff. It’s unfair to expose staff members to public criticism of their work. Always give credit publicly, but never let them take criticism that way. Always protect your staff.

An educator for two decades, Brian P. Gatens is superintendent/principal at Norwood Public School in Norwood, N.J. Gatens has worked at the K-12 level in public and private school settings in urban and suburban districts. He has been a classroom teacher, vice principal, principal and now superintendent/principal.

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