I learned a long time ago that I am not that smart. I don’t have all the answers, and there are times I am not sure I have any answers at all. I also learned a valuable lesson along the way. I need the help of others more than I realized. Fortunately, I also learned how to ask for that help. That particular skill has served me well as a principal. When I was appointed to my current position, I made a very conscious decision that I was not going to be a dictator. I have worked for bosses who were (I think we probably all have) and I wanted to be the kind of principal who shared the responsibility and the decision making that goes with running a school. This has led me to study leadership styles and discover which ones best suited my own strengths and weaknesses. I have strived to make collaborative leadership the basis of my principalship.
Why Collaborative Leadership is Important
As I said earlier, I understand that I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. However, I do know that I have some great people who work for me. The are smart, have strong opinions and are not afraid to voice those opinions. Utilizing a collaborative leadership approach provides a forum for these perspectives and opinions. People are heard. This setting also allows people to see and hear a different view. Participating in a collaborative leadership model also provides me with valuable information to base decisions on and makes people feel that they can come and talk to me about any situation.
Setting Up and Utilizing Your Leadership Team
My leadership team is pretty straightforward. Each of my department chairs sits on the leadership team. We have nine teams and each team has a team leader. They also are a part of the team. In addition, I have my School Counseling Coordinator, my Special Education Coordinator and my media specialist are also a part of the team. The last component are my three assistant principals. We have about 20 people who sit around the table, and they represent every grade level and subject area.
We meet once a month. The agenda is created with the input of the staff and the admin team. We bring issues to the table for discussion and input. Sometimes I just ask for feedback on a subject, sometimes I look for consensus on a topic. I then ask the members to take the topic back to their groups (teams or departments) for further discussion. The members of the team then bring back the input from the teams and departments to share with the leadership team before reaching a decision.
Other Ways to Create a Collaborative Environment
Each semester I schedule meetings with each team and each department. I show up with no agenda, just my iPad to take notes. I answer questions and address concerns. I also listen to suggestions and ideas that each team has. It is opportunity for teachers and staff to say pretty much anything they want to. There is some danger in doing this, but for the most part it has been a very positive experience. One thing I have started doing is asking each team to also make a list of positive things as well as concerns. I don’t always agree with these views or ideas, but people can never say I don’t listen.
I also make it a point to ask opinions from a wide variety of staff. I rely on my office manager and my administrative team for input, but I also try to venture outside of my comfort zone as much as possible. Having the vantage point of people in different positions provides me with a a clearer idea of the issues and the ramifications of each possible decision. Also, knowing all the possible outcomes helps me provide answers to staff about why I decided to go in a certain direction. I may not have agreed with their proposal, but I can provide a solid reason (most of the time) as to why I decided to take the route I did.
When NOT to Use it
There are times when a leader just has to make a call. The tricky part about being a collaborative leader is knowing when that time is. There are no hard and fast rules. I learned a lot by listening to my people. I had a trusted staff member tell me one time, “just make a decision, we will follow you”. Looking back, that was a clear sign that I had missed the “just make a call” moment. You have to trust your instincts,. learn from mistakes and know your building and the situation. Sometimes easier said than done, but then that is why we are the leader!