Shared Leadership Teams – The Series

The multiple perspectives, the buy-in from diverse stakeholders, shared leadership teams are a powerful tool in your arsenal for making large-scale school change stick. Shared leadership teams focus on the strategic work of the school. They focus on school change and improvement. They are not simply an advisory group. They are the decision making body.

Shared Leadership Teams: What They Are and Aren’t

Schools already have lots of groups that they call leadership teams. But many of them are not what I would refer to as “shared leadership teams,” not in the sense we're talking about here. I would probably call them “management teams.”

Schools frequently have teams that are used to help share information between building administration and teams or departments, or to decide how and when to transition between terms or trimesters, or how to handle lunch on days with special events, or how to schedule fundraisers from various groups, etc.

I am not implying that these management tasks are unimportant, because they are. Further, I believe they are best handled with teacher input and representation and not by administrative edict.

To me, however, management teams handle tasks related to the day to day running of the school.

Shared leadership teams focus on the strategic work of the school. They focus on school change and improvement.

Students learning with tablets

In Auburn, we call them “Design Teams” because of the design and planning nature of their task. Another district I work with calls them “Implementation Teams” because they will lead the implementation of their strategic initiatives (and their “design teams” serve a specific function in school construction projects). Other folks call them “Work Groups.” It doesn't matter so much what they are called, as the work that they do.

Design teams assess where in the implementation process your educators are, identify timely next steps, assist in providing formative feedback to those educators, help troubleshoot and problem-solve the challenges of implementation, and facilitate the sharing of ideas. It's roll-up-your-sleeves strategic work. It's about assessing what needs to be done right now to help your initiative be successful. And it's about collaboratively crafting the overarching systems and structures that will guide your project.

Leadership Teams

For example, when Auburn started their 1to1 iPads in primary grades initiative, the design team for that initiative met periodically to plan various aspects of the program, including: what grade level we should begin with (kindergarten); the original name of the initiative; how to handle a small exploration program in 5 classrooms to figure out how we wanted to move forward with the program; how to craft a small randomized control trial (research study) at the beginning of the project, to insure we were collecting and analyzing data on how we were doing. Later, the role of the team evolved to focus on both on-going support of teachers and the special needs of rolling out 1to1 tablets to a new grade level each year.

As stated previously, shared leadership teams are made up of diverse stake holders. The power comes from these diverse perspectives.

But they are not simply an advisory group. They are the decision making body.

And, as much as possible, decisions are made by working toward concensus. Not everyone has to agree, but, as much as possible, everyone should be able to live with a decision. And lots can be learned by asking (nicely) someone to clarify their dissenting point of view. I find that often they have some concern many of the rest of us haven't thought about, but that we should consider and plan for.

Keep in mind that lots of perspectives and shared decision making does not mean letting folks do what ever they want (if that's worrying you). If you are the administrator, you still help set the non-negotiables and parameters of a decision. As a member of the team, your perspective is one of those shared in the discussions.

So shared leadership teams are not advisory groups, management teams, nor information dissemination groups (even if these are important tasks that need to be addressed somehow within the school or district).

What shared leadership teams are is a driving force to do the following:

  • Work Out Details
  • Solve the Problems
  • Invent the Next Pieces
  • Systematic Change and Continuous Improvement

 

How to Avoid Unintentionally Sabotaging Your Shared Leadership Teams

So, if you are forming shared leadership teams for your initiative, you clearly want to reap the benefits that come from them: increased buy-in, soliciting stakeholder voice and choice, designing and planning strengthened by the power of multiple perspectives. And, if you are the one putting the leadership teams together, then you’re already a leader in your school or district (a little positional authority is usually needed to get them started).

So guess the most common cause of unintentional leadership team sabotage

Shared Leadership

You are!

Yup. In my experience the most common source of sabotage are the people who put the team together in the first place. They never intend to. It just happens naturally.

How?

You are leaders. You have postitional authority. The stakeholders at the table are used to your leadership. Probably, most of them appreciate your leadership. So what do they do? They do what they’re used to. They defer to you. And suddenly you have one leader with 14 people around a table, not a shared leadership team with 15 stakeholders expressing their diverse perspectives.

How do you know if you are unintentionally sabotaging your shared leadership team?

Pay attention to what percent of the talk in the shared leadership team (not counting the facilitation, just the real talk – sharing and examining ideas, designing components, developing plans) is from you or other school leaders with positional authority. If the answer is more than 25%, you have tweaking to do. If it is more than 50%, you’re in trouble (and won’t reap the benefits of shared leadership). If it is more than 75%, you are a master saboteur and are totally undermining your intentions of having a shared leadership team? (Ok, said a little tongue in cheek, but you get my point.)

In truth, we (school leaders) are good at what we do. To not do what we are good at is hard! It’s counterintuitive! But, in this case, it is also counterproductive.

So, what can you do to avoid the unintentional sabotage?

You will have to shift your leadership hat from directing and sharing your wisdom, to facilitating and soliciting wisdom from others. These strategies might help when meeting with your shared leadership team:

Wait Time: Just like in the classroom, sometimes you just need to pose your question or prompt and wait. And wait. And wait. Try not to be the first one to offer ideas, suggestions, or opinions. Just look around the room expectantly, someone else will eventually break the silence. The more the group gets used to actually expressing their ideas, the shorter the wait will be. But even when your group is at that point, try not to be one of the first ones to talk.

Actively Solicit Others’ Ideas: Just waiting probably will not be enough. The team might need nudging. Turn to team members and say, “Betty, what do you think?” You need to do it in a gentle way. It can’t sound like you’re trying to put anyone on the spot. Maybe start with someone who has been quiet, but you know is likely to have a good idea. Maybe do a “round robin,” where each person shares an idea in turn. Maybe after a couple people have shared ideas, ask an especially silent person what they think. When you see someone has a facial expression that says they have an opinion, say, “Mark, you look like you have something to say…” Spend more time getting others to share their ideas, than you spend sharing yours.

Save Your List for Later: It is likely that everyone is waiting for you to speak. Don’t. The quickest way to allow others to not share their voice or perspective is for you to speak. Save your input for later. (You do get to share it, just not first – or second!) I know you already have your own ideas about what needs to be done, how it should be done, and what the next steps are (you are a leader, after all!). So, keep that list to yourself! For now. Save most of your speaking for facilitating and getting others to share their ideas and opinions. But do keep the list in your head or on paper. Wait for others to share those ideas. Cross them off as they come up (from others). After the discussion has gone on for a while, and lots of ideas are on the table, then you can cycle back to sharing ideas from your list that aren’t crossed off yet. Maybe share them just one at a time, with ideas coming from others in between.

Frame Your Ideas as Questions, not Suggestions: Folks know you have ideas. They probably generally like your ideas. They are used to using your ideas, and probably even are accustomed to deferring to your ideas. The way to not allow them to simply wait and take your ideas is to avoid framing your ideas as ideas or suggestions, but rather as questions, “What do you guys think if we were to…?” This way, you are still soliciting members’ ideas and opinions, but ideas and opinions about the ideas you share. It says you value and are actively seeking their input and voice.

Warning #1: You might be a little mad at me right now (maybe deep down inside – maybe just a little – admit it!). Why can’t you share your ideas? You have tons of experience working on initiatives, and with running schools and educational programs. Isn’t that experience valuable? At the very least, as a shared leadership team, shouldn’t you be participating as an equal partner in the team, and chime in just as everyone else should chime in?

The answer, of course, is “yes.”

But not right now. This post isn’t about you or your expertise. It’s about developing the capacity of a shared leadership team. Do you want to sit around a table of silent educators, where yours is the “only” voice? Or do you want to sit around a table with lively discussions, ideas flying, and good thinking being applied to the work? This post is about how you get the other stakeholders to stop being silent. Once they stop being quiet or hesitant to share their opinions and ideas, that’s when you get to start participating as a regular team member.

Warning #2: It will be painful at first. It doesn’t matter what you tell folks about how we will do this together and we are all leaders in this initiative and that this team was formed so we could get everyone’s perspective. It still violates the leadership paradigm they are used to. Folks will stare at you and wonder why you aren’t telling them what to do or what you’re thinking. In fact, the first couple suggestions that come from folks who aren’t used to shared leadership may even be delivered with a tone that sounds a little spiteful with an undertone of “This isn’t brain science! Why didn’t you say this already? Why am I having to say it?!” They might even treat you (for a while) like they don’t understand why you aren’t doing your job or why you’re just sitting there.

The good news is that once teachers, students, or other stake holders start sharing their ideas and see that those ideas are wanted and valued and even used(!), they will be much more willing to speak up. And at that point, not before, you can say (if you feel you need to), “That’s why I was just sitting there. To get you folks to start speaking up!”

 

Shared Leadership Teams: The Power of Diverse Perspectives

If many hands make light work, many minds make smart work.

Shared Leadership

Bette Manchester taught me long ago, at the beginning of MLTI, not only that leadership was everything, but that shared leadership teams performed better for an initiative than single leaders did.

Years later, I worked for a small, private, educational development organization. We created non-traditional schools for underachieving students in good sized cities. There were four of us. Two came from the business world and understood the business side of education and how to work with executive-level decision-makers in large districts. One was a former high school principal who had also worked in the corporate world as a VP for Education for a large, national cable company. He understood school leadership and administration, and community and business partnerships. And there was me. I understood pedagogy, student motivation, and professional development. And we were all Type-A personalities!

It made for the most interesting phone conversations (we lived all over the east coast and when we weren't onsite at a school, collaobrated online and on the phone). My wife would come home from work to hear the tail end of one of my conference calls, grimace, and say when we were done, “Wow! That must have been hard!” I didn't understand. The conversations were lively, but we weren't arguing or disagreeing, really. We were strong personalities, passionate about shared work, critiquing an idea or plan from our own perspectives and areas of expertise. What made it not arguing was that we actually listened to each other, and revised our ideas and plans with our input from each other. We always ended up with a much stronger plan because it stood up to scrutiny from multiple perspectives.

Since then, whenever I've had an initiative or project to work on, I have started by putting together a shared leadership team (or convinced the folks I'm working with to put together a shared leadership team).

These teams are made up of a spectrum of shareholders: students, teachers, administrators, school committee members, parents, and community members. But you aren't just looking for a diversity of positions, but also perspectives. And you don't want all “yes-men” on the team, either. While you might not want too many active blockers, you certainly want some of the folks who are looking critically at the work and coming to the table with their “yes, but”s to be addressed.

Auburn's iPads in primary grades

As an example, when we started our first-in-the-nation 1to1 iPads in primary grades initiative, one of the first things we did was put together a “Design Team,” the folks who would design the initiative. In addition to getting input from teachers, the Design Team included the following: Superintendent, Asst. Superintendent, Curriculum Director, Tech Director, Multiple Pathways Director, Principal, Elementary Technology Coach, District Grant Writer, School Committee members, parents, and leaders from several related community and educational organizations, such as the Auburn Public Library, the Career Center, the Chamber Business/Education Committee, City Council, ETC, NEREL, and the Maine International Center for Digital Learning.

At least one of the Design Team members was not necessarily supporters. But her concerned position about how we were going to use iPads with young learners insured we were addressing those concerns early in the design process. Further, seeing how we going about designing the initiative in thoughtful ways alleviated many of her concerns. (In the end, she became a supporter of the program, even when she continues to be critical when we aren't as good about living up to our high standards for the program as we might be.)

And a key learning from our using shared leadership teams? No one of us is as smart as all of us together. The secret is the power of diverse perspectives.

 

Reframing Professional Development (Again)

Professional Development is more than just workshops, readings, and online courses. So what is it? And why am I dissatisfied with PD being reduced to these usual components? I think I have rewritten (and rethought) this post more than any other. My earlier thinking is posted here, and here.

Why reframe it again now?

I think I finally figured out what it is that makes us (Auburn Schools) think differently about professional development.

It’s the proficiency piece.

Teacher and student

We aren’t interested in simply sharing techniques or information. We want changes in classroom practice.

I have collaborated with other districts and initiatives, and I hear frustrations about how much they have invested in professional development – how many sessions they have provided – and how it has resulted in very little change in practice.

I think it is because our thinking about professional development has been incomplete. Sometimes folks say that teachers are oppositional or unwilling to change, but I think it is that workshops are simply insufficient (and perhaps their role is misunderstood), even though they are a key component.

Over time, our understanding about what we need to pay attention to in terms of PD and support has expanded to include 3 overarching categories: clarity; support for foundational knowledge, and support for achieving proficiency.

Clarity

  • A Professional Learning Curriculum – If we have an initiative (technology integration, proficiency-based learning, math instruction, middle level practices, what ever it may be…), what do we want our educators to become good at? As with young learners, adult learners can excel when we are transparent about what we would like them to know and be able to do. What are the (clearly articulated) knowledge and skills we want our educators to become proficient in, and what scopes and sequences make sense?
  • A Professional Learning Progress Management System – How will we manage, acknowledge and certify adult learning (just as we should for student learning)? What system(s) will we use to help make the professional curriculum and pathways transparent, to certify teacher proficiencies as they move through their professional curriculum, and to record and manage their “certifications” (micro-credentialling, “badging,” Educate/Empower or other learning progress management systems)?
  • Answering “But What Does It Look Like?” – Simply stated, this is “models & examples”; a curated collection of possible documents, classroom visits, videos, photos, and articles, etc., to help teachers develop a sense of what an aspect of the strategy would look like in action. Teachers often have an intellectual understanding of what they are being asked to do, but not a practical understanding. These models and examples play a critical role in helping them move to the point of being able to try this new idea in their own classroom.

Support for Foundational Knowledge

  • “Same Page” Trainings – These are introductory workshops, getting teachers on the same page about a new set of concepts, skills, or strategies they will be working to implement. We used to think of teachers as leaving a workshop as proficient in the new skill. Now we think of these “same page” sessions as just the beginning. The real (professional) learning happens when they go back to their classrooms and try out the strategy (see the PD components in the next category).
  • Reusable Learning Objects – Instead of having to wait for a workshop, or for the Tech Integrator or Instructional Coach to visit her classroom, these how-to articles, lessons, short courses, videos, and other digital resources (aligned to our professional learning curriculum) are available to a teacher as she needs them.

Support for Achieving Proficiency

Lesson Invention
  • Lesson Invention and Tryouts – There is much to any new system that needs to be designed or invented (or at least adapted for our schools). The work teachers do to design, invent, prototype, refine, perfect, and share these systems and strategies is valuable professional learning for all of us. Even relatively simple ideas or strategies, if they are truly new to a teacher, require some level of “invention” for that educator to put them into action. Embedded in the idea of lesson invention and tryouts is the notion of continuous improvement, and the chance to try a skill in the classroom, reflect on how it went and how it could be done better, and then try it out again with the improvements (play-debrief-replay).
  • Coaching and Feedback – Keeping with the idea of continuous improvement, this includes the teacher working with any Technology Integrator, Instructional Coach, administrator, or peer, who models lessons or strategies, co-designs or plans with the teacher, observes, and/or provides formative feedback to support the teacher’s professional growth and ability to increase the level of fidelity with which they can implement the strategy.
  • Teacher Face-to-Face Time – Teachers need time to sit with other teachers working on the same initiatives to share experiences, ideas, and resources, as well as to ask questions and seek support. They need a chance to share things that they have tried that worked, and to seek assistance with those things they are still challenged by. And the notion of “face-to-face” can extend well beyond her school or district via the blogs and social networks the teacher builds and follows.
Teacher Face-to-Face Time

We don’t just see that there are 3 categories of professional learning, but we acknowledge that all three compliment each other and are needed. Teachers don’t get to proficiency without the foundational supports. To offer workshops without defining the desired broader professional learning at best leaves gaps in teachers’ learning and at worst becomes a collection of random workshops. To share a set of expectations with teachers (the professional curriculum) without providing training and supports is the irresponsible expectation that they can change practices without supports.

Successful changes in classroom practice come when there is clarity, as well as support for both building foundational understandings and growing to proficiency.

If your initiative isn’t progressing the way you would like, if you aren’t seeing the the classroom changes you’d like to see, I’d invite you to look at the strategies within the three categories. Is your initiative attending to each?

 

Progress on our Professional Learning Project

Like a lot of districts working on large initiatives, we're struggling with how we can provide all the professional development and support our staff needs and how to manage the professional learning. Much of that development and systems work for us (Auburn School Department) is now part of the Distributed PD Project (watch this overview of the project.)

The project is more about creating our professional learning systems, than it is about actual workshops, trainings, coaching, etc. The project started with looking at supporting teachers with technology integration (leveraging technology for learning), but we knew we needed a similar system for our around Customized Learning. Recent developments have increased Customized Learning as a priority, but we are continuing to put as much attention into the technology for learning piece – both as a subset of the Customized Learning work, but also to support the folks who are primarily interested in the technology professional learning.

We have just shared a draft professional curriculum grid for Technology for Learning and a draft professional curriculum grid for Customized Learning. Each is only a partial grid outlining the Measurement Topics and steps or learning progressions within each Strand. By partial, we mean incomplete, but we have shared them hoping that others will collaborate with us to complete them.

Also, we have started a heightened collaboration with Educate/Empower around this work and are collaborating more intensively with 3 other Maine districts who share the same needs. Working from a proficiency-based learning perspective, and recognizing the power of a transparent curriculum and easy access to resources and support, the project is, right now, focused on the following:

  • Creating a professional learning curriculum/continuum for transitioning to Customized Learning, including for leveraging technology for learning
  • Developing a micro-credentialing (badging) infrastructure for that curriculum (we have selected Educate/Empower for the platform)
  • Developing or collecting reusable learning objects (videos, online resources, online modules, etc.) aligned to our professional learning curriculum
  • Develop a system to recruit and certify a cross-district cohort of “certifiers,” who will review educators' evidence of proficiency in the professional learning

 

Organizing Early to Avoid Device Breakage and Misuse

We had an interesting experience last year, at Auburn Middle School, related to iPad breakage and misuse.

AMS has six teams (3 7th & 3 8th). Last June, when we collected the iPads, we found that some teams had quite high breakage and misuse rates, and some had quite low breakage and misuse rates.

And what we saw right away was that the low-rate teams had done some things that the high-rate teams had not:

  • Worked on classroom culture (code of collaboration, rules, procedures, mutual respect, etc. – in general, not  iPad specific) before distributing iPads
  • Had a shared vision for learning
  • Had clear expectations for students for iPad use (actively taught them and re-taught them when needed)
  • Had clear expectations of teachers to use the iPads in class regularly for meaningful (to the students) learning activities 
  • Were thoughtful about including motivation and engagement strategies when designing learning activities (including those that include the iPad)
  • Responded to misuse in measured ways that were geared more toward getting students on track for appropriate use than on punishment

This was a great reminder of the success strategies from the beginning of MLTI (the original page seems to be gone, but Deer Isle has reposted it). The state MLTI team uncovered these strategies from visiting schools across the state and finding patterns among successful and more challenged schools. AMS’s trend data was almost the same as the original MLTI discovery: do these things, have low breakage/misuse; don’t do these things and have high breakage/misuse.

It confirms the conclusion from more than a decade ago that breakage/misuse is primarily a function of leadership and teacher practice. 

I’m not dumping on or blaming folks who have that higher rate. I’m much more interested in all of us learning from these kinds of experiences, so we can help all schools implement the more productive strategies and be more successful.