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.
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.
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.
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