What is it?
In "Making Sense As a School Leader," authors Ackerman, Donaldson and Van Der Bogert write that leaders "who embrace open inquiry, the sharing of problems and solutions, and collective responsibility will foster creativity, resourcefulness and collaboration in the work of staff and the learning of children." These characteristics are earmarks of leaders who seek to learn and to invent through questioning.
The trick is not to do more, but to rethink how and why you're doing what you're doing. And to keep a simple concept in mind: Everything a principal does in school should be focused on ensuring the learning of both students and adults.
Central to the concept of high-quality schools is the creation of learning communities. The notion of schools as learning communities is growing because it must. Schools must be places where everyone in them - adults as well as students - is continually learning and developing.
The goal of learning communities is to build social and intellectual connections among people. Control interferes with the process. The leader of a learning community is a "developmentalist," someone who knows where he or she stands on the issues and is committed to growth over time.
Leadership is a learning activity. By allowing ourselves to see leaders as learners, we create a new image of principals' work, and we present the principal as a model learner. Indeed, the image of principal is one of a public learner. Public learning can be a powerful model for everyone in the school community. Put simply, if children are to be resourceful, energetic and responsible for their own learning, so must every adult in the school - especially the principal. In ever-changing schools, being principal is akin to being the chief learning officer. Through a careful mix of teamwork, assessment, reflection and inspiration, the principal leads the school - managerially, instructionally and motivationally.
Leaders acknowledge that different types of expertise exist at different levels of the school. The ability to draw on different people where that knowledge is distributed is what Richard Elmore calls "distributed leadership." The basic idea is simple: People in any organization or system develop specialties that reflect their interests, aptitudes and skills. At the same time, even people in similar roles will have different levels of competence.
To help balance the demands of running a successful school, today's principal maximizes the talents and skills of other adults in the school by promoting a shared leadership team. By utilizing assistant principals or other administrators and teacher leaders to handle issues such as physical plant, social services, discipline and personnel, the principal broadens school attention and resources to such issues. By using teacher leaders to aid in curriculum issues, data collection, professional development and school safety issues, the principal provides the classroom teacher with a greater stake in the success and direction of the school.
This shared leadership not only provides greater coverage and attention to school needs, but it also plays a valuable role in developing skills and cultivating abilities for the school leaders of tomorrow. By dividing duties and tasks, and delegating realms of responsibility, principals demonstrate true leadership by maximizing all of the resources available to them.
The principal doesn't have to do it all, but he or she is responsible for getting it done.
Everything a principal does sends a signal to the school community regarding what they personally value and what the school believes in. The appearance of the physical plant sends a signal. Whether or not student work is displayed on the walls sends a signal of what the principal and the school find important.
Principals will never get away from the administrative duties involved in running the school. But these administrative duties are not disconnected from the core learning goals of the school. Creating the school budget, for instance, concretely aligns resources with instructional needs. Hiring decisions demonstrate whether the school community is dedicated to learning and growth. All school decisions should be based on the answer to one central question: How will this action improve the teaching and learning process?