In 2013, my colleague Bill Hughes and I co-authored a National School Climate Practice Brief School Climate and Shared Leadership making the case that shared leadership that engages staff, parents, and students becomes a force multiplier in school climate work.
Recently, in studies conducted by the University of Massachusetts Boston Center for Social Development and Education researchers found that creating a school-based leadership team had a positive impact on integrating and sustaining social inclusion throughout schools in the U.S.
As a member of the National Dropout Prevention Center/Network (NDPCN) Research Fellows, we have discussed the importance of shared leadership implementing the NDPCN 15 Strategies for Dropout Prevention (e.g., school-community collaboration, family engagement, active learning, etc.).
Shared leadership, according to the Glossary of Education Reform, is the practice of governing a school by expanding the number of people involved in making important decisions related to the school’s organization, operation, and academics. In general, shared leadership entails the creation of leadership roles or decision-making opportunities for teachers, staff members, students, parents, and community members. Shared leadership is widely seen as an alternative to more traditional forms of school governance in which the principal or administrative team exercises executive authority and makes most governance decisions without necessarily soliciting advice, feedback, or participation from others in the school or community.
In my experience in schools as school leaders consider designing, implementing and sustaining shared leadership they quickly turn to the usual suspects: faculty on existing academic subject teams, members of professional development teams, members of program committees, parents from the PTSA and members of the community engaged in current school-community collaborations. While these individuals are well suited to contribute to shared leadership I encourage us to think about other education stakeholders that may not immediately come to mind but can contribute to shared leadership.
For shared leadership to truly represent all education stakeholders we need to get beyond the usual suspects. Here are a few to consider:
- Of course it immediately comes to mind that students are often absent from engaging in shared leadership, but their experiences and insights greatly contribute to an understanding of what is happening in schools on a daily basis. It is not sufficient to engage students identified as leaders (either formally such as student government or informally as peer leaders) but to engage students that represent the diversity of the student population.
- School staff members including counselors, cafeteria staff, custodial staff, school bus drivers and others can greatly contribute to leading and decision-making. They interact with students outside of the classroom and have unique perspectives on what it takes to effectively motivate and educate students.
- Teachers that are new to the profession and perhaps not yet identified as leaders have insights from their experiences that can question some of the existing policies and practices that have been taken for granted. What better way to instill leadership knowledge, skills and dispositions in our newest teachers than in shared leadership opportunities?
- Parents that are not as engaged as other parents, perhaps due to work schedules, family needs, challenging experiences from their time in schools and/or lack of availability during school activities and events. Such parents and family members represent many others that, as invited to share leadership, offer great wisdom and perspective through their feedback and advice.
- Community members such as artists, elders, young entrepreneurs and non-profit staff have many attributes that can greatly assist schools to make decisions leading to greater student development. These citizens often do not show up on the radar screen of potential community members that can be part of shared leadership teams, but come with many collaborative experiences that can be very helpful to schools.
Shared leadership in schools requires bold and courageous strategies and commitments from school leaders, the benefits of engaging diverse stakeholders in “co-creating” enhanced strategies rather than asking them to “buy-in” to existing practices lead to greater deliberations and decision-making on behalf of each student. Of course school leaders will need to adapt some of their current selection criteria, meeting time and places and motivation strategies to engage stakeholders beyond the usual suspects; all worthwhile changes that more effectively engage stakeholders in creating safe school environments, effective practices and students successful in school and life.