A principal sharing leadership with colleagues
Leadership Skills and Implementation

Developing Teachers as Leaders: Shared Leadership is Not Delegation

By Terry Wilhelm

What is the difference between shared leadership and delegation? An effective principal must be able to use both, but they are not the same.

Developing Teachers as Leaders: This is the second post in a series about developing teachers as leaders.

Delegation is operational; shared leadership is developmental

As a principal, I might delegate the annual updating of the safe schools plan to a willing and interested teacher. Although I sign the final plan after she goes over the changes with me, updating the plan personally would not be a priority task for the use of my time, given the far more important work associated with being the “learning leader” of my school.

Simply put, delegation is handing off a task to an already-capable staff member. This could be an assistant principal, secretary or clerk, counselor, or a teacher. The key is that the person already possesses the skills to complete the task satisfactorily.

While you may need to supply additional information, you do not need to sit side by side with the person in order for them to learn to do the task (in a delegated task, that would be micromanagement, which is both undesirable and counterproductive). Delegation lends itself well to operational tasks that are well-established and not difficult to run.

Sharing leadership is more complex. It is a dynamic process. It is developmental and ongoing. Leadership can be shared with individuals or with teams.

Sharing leadership with teachers one-on-one

Consider the facets of the role that will be shared. For example, if I want to begin sharing leadership of the student study team (SST) with a teacher who will ultimately assume full-time responsibility for the role, I would think through all the role’s requirements, including chairing the meetings, maintaining the records, and sending reminders to teachers that their student’s SST is next on the schedule. The most complex part of a role like this is not the paperwork but the facilitation of the meetings, ensuring that everyone is heard and that the referring teacher leaves the meeting with a set of strategies to implement with the student.

Start the process by meeting with the teacher who is interested in learning this role, first making sure that s/he is indeed interested and has the time to begin learning and eventually assuming full responsibility for the role. I would also only select a teacher who has demonstrated the organizational skills and follow-through needed for this kind of role. We would discuss its various tasks and responsibilities. I would start by continuing to chair the meetings, but having the teacher sit side-by-side with me, perhaps as the recorder. We would meet briefly before and after each meeting for planning and debriefing.

Gradually, I would begin having him or her take over routine parts of the agenda, continuing to meet before and after each meeting. S/he would eventually take over the entire meeting, but I would continue to attend, initially the full meeting, then tapering off. However, I’d make sure to attend if we were going to discuss a particularly needy student or meet with a teacher who typically resisted putting classroom interventions into practice.

Principals should use both tools for effective leadership

There are certain aspects of the principalship that can be neither shared nor delegated. But the time is now to begin to share and delegate what we can if we are to be effective leaders. Delegation requires letting go of perfectionism. Someone else may not do the job you would do, but they can do a very adequate job.

When sharing leadership with teachers, you may find that not everyone agrees with you 100% of the time. But you don’t want “rubber stamp” teacher leaders; there is group wisdom that is greater than the leader’s individual wisdom, and you will magnify your own effectiveness if you allow that wisdom to grow and flourish through shared leadership.

Developing Teachers as Leaders Series

Read part three: Empowering Teachers to Share the Stage

Terry Wilhelm has served as a public school teacher, principal, district office and area service agency administrator, and adjunct university instructor in educational leadership. She is a regular contributor to Leadership, the bimonthly magazine of the Association of California School Administrators.

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