What Is Shared Leadership in Education?

Written by Rebecca Turley

baton pass between relay runners

Whether it occurs at the building or district level, leadership in education is dynamic and multi-faceted and is akin to juggling a dozen balls in the air. While blindfolded. And standing on one foot.

Leadership roles like principal and superintendent come with enormous responsibilities and countless obligations. Because your time and energy are both in limited supply, you may find some parts of your job falling by the wayside. But what if you were able to distribute some of your duties, give agency to those lead and allow them to share in the decision-making?

Through shared leadership (also called distributive leadership), the team as a whole shares the responsibility of achieving a specific goal. Leaders in a shared leadership environment aren’t passing the buck; they’re creating a system where everyone plays a part in its success. Consider the leader in this role as the facilitator of the project or assignment, overseeing the task and assembling the troops to make it happen.

Educational leaders in the shared leadership model are able to increase organizational performance by assigning tasks that play to each person’s strengths. In return, the team members enjoy a more collaborative paradigm where they have a stronger voice and more control over how, what, and when decisions are made.

Consider, for example, the Supreme Court, as a classic case of the shared leadership model. Here all members of the court share leadership responsibilities, while one specific person serves as a chief justice. In this setting, all members of the team are involved in the decision-making process.

Is the Shared Leadership Model Right for Your School?

Shared leadership in education doesn’t work all the time, and it doesn’t work in all settings and with all teams. For example, if you’re a principal of a school where the majority of the educators are new to their role, a shared leadership model may simply not work. But if you lead a team of seasoned educators, they are likely much better prepared to take on select leadership duties.

In a shared leadership educational environment, leaders are able to bring their team together for higher levels of participation and collaboration. Teams in these environments often rally around the leader and are eager to participate because it gives them a voice in the decision-making process and allows them to feel more invested in the issues affecting their school or district.

With a deeper level of involvement by the team, innovation soars, team effectiveness increases, and members of the team feel more empowered to serve their school or district to the best of their ability.

What Educational Leaders Should Consider in the Shared Leadership Model

To fully realize the benefits of shared leadership, leaders must be committed to its design and execution and have a deep understanding of the strengths and talents of the team.

Educational leaders in the shared leadership environment must also:

Achieving a Positive School Climate Through Shared Leadership

brainstorming around desk of puzzle piecesShared leadership has long been advocated in the educational environment. And in 2013, the National School Climate Center (NSCC) published a report that solidified the value of adopting a shared leadership style in our nation’s schools.

We’ve long known that a positive school climate improves student achievement and creates a sense of belonging. Therefore, school leaders are always on the hunt for efficient and effective ways to produce a positive climate in their own schools and districts.

According to the NSCC, shared leadership has become an outstanding way for school leaders to see a return on their investment of human and financial resources and create a school environment where both students and staff thrive. Everyone benefits in an educational setting where shared leadership efforts are encouraged, supported, and rewarded. Through shared leadership, student learning accelerates, learning becomes student-focused, and a positive school climate result.

The NSCC defines shared leadership as an environment where other individuals, who act as partners or group members (i.e., teachers, staff, parents, students, and principals) work together to solve problems.

According to the NSCC, principals should not work alone in isolation. Instead, they should tap the leadership capabilities of educators to improve the nation’s schools. When educators are involved in the leadership process, they’re more likely to share in the vision and remain actively engaged.

Shared leadership is a partnership, with teachers, staff, parents, and students all playing an equal role. To create this environment, effective school leaders should:

  • Set clear boundaries and rules to establish a balanced system of leadership.
  • Ensure that all members of the team are working toward a shared vision.
  • Ensure that all members of the team share responsibility and accountability.
  • Recognize and appreciate diverse perspectives and viewpoints among the team members.
  • Educate the team members on the value of inner strength.

What Does a Shared Leadership Environment Look Like?

Shared leadership often looks different from one school to the next and in one situation to the next. However, one of the most common – and arguably the most effective – shared leadership models involves a leadership team that’s curated by the school or district leader.

For example, if you’re a school principal, you may create your own leadership team of trusted administrators, educators, and staff members and bring them together to make important decisions or coordinate school-wide events or programs.

Shared leadership in education may also include:

In the shared leadership model, educational leaders and administrators aren’t looking to relieve themselves of their daily duties and responsibilities. Instead, this style of leadership allows leaders to listen to and gather knowledge from others as to make better informed decisions. Through others’ opinions, viewpoints, and wisdom, educational leaders can glean valuable insight and better understand the needs of their students, faculty, staff, and the community.

Shared leadership also allows school leaders to nurture leadership in others, which then cultivates the next generation of school leaders.

Some of the issues and topics where shared leadership models are particularly useful include:

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