Giving Up Control: How To Make Leadership Teams Work For You

By Bob Thompson, Education Consultant, Expect Educational Excellence

There is a tremendous amount of responsibility and pressure that comes with the job of being a school principal. Because of this responsibility and pressure, the natural urge of most administrators is to maintain tight control over decision-making. After all, the buck stops at the principal’s desk, no matter what happens.

Giving up control, however, can lead to better outcomes when it empowers other staff members to step up to the plate and take some ownership over decision-making. A teacher-led leadership team is one way to reap some of those benefits.

There are well-known excuses for avoiding the formation of a leadership team. Some are listed below.

  • Teams centralize power in a few teachers that leads to staff divisiveness.
  • Selecting team members can be seen as showing favoritism.
  • Teams will make decisions that are contrary to a principal’s agenda.
  • Team meetings are a waste of time and nothing of importance gets accomplished.
  • The staff is either too large or too small to make a leadership team effective.

All of the above reasons can be mitigated by some careful planning. However, this planning must also involve a clear decision to give up some control over some decisions. In fact, giving up some control is the most important factor to consider when attempting to mitigate problems with teacher-led leadership teams. This difficult decision is what makes the team effective, provides motivation for team members, and creates buy-in by staff that cannot be achieved in other ways.

The first step is to decide on an area of focus for the team. Perhaps there is a need for better curriculum implementation, or a desire to develop a better school-community relationship, a need to improve attendance or a way to motivate students to try harder on benchmark and other assessments. Avoid selecting some specific hot-button, perennial issues, such as reducing tardies, improving lunchroom behavior, stopping students from running in the halls, and so on. It is better to create a broad mandate, such as improving school climate, and let the team decide on priorities for specific actions that are worthy of their focus.

Next, it is time to announce the formation of the team and its purpose, and then to select a team. The best way to form the team is to let groups of staff members select their own representatives, unless you are fortunate to have a very small staff of less than six members and you can put them all on the team! The team needs to be small, and six is the maximum you would want on any leadership team for efficiency’s sake.

By letting teachers select their “team” representatives, you solve some of the problems inherent in selecting your own “select” team. You may end up with team members that you would not have selected, but it is the team that will have to deal with them, and not you.

That brings us to another important point. The principal should not be a part of the team and should not lead the meetings. The principal must attend most meetings and serve the role of facilitator or coach for the team members. The principal should also assist with setting up meeting protocols and member responsibilities, such as notetaking, sharing information and involving other staff members, and setting a clear focus with observable, measurable goals and reasonable timelines. Always remind the team that a small goal accomplished is better than broad, unachievable goals that drag on beyond the current school year and end up wearing everyone out.

Once the team is established and protocols are defined, it is important for the principal to step back and let the team work. A team will likely choose to do some things differently than what the principal would do. Giving in to these ideas is what makes the team work for a school leader.

Empowering and motivating staff members to take ownership in school management improves the ability of a school to achieve its goals. Giving up control is the hardest part for the school principal.

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The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association of Alaska School Boards. AASB welcomes diverse perspectives and civil discourse. To submit a Guest Column for consideration, see our Guest Column Guidelines and email your 400-1000 word submission HERE.