Have you ever wondered why coaches do not play in the game? Instead they prep and prepare the players on the team to run the plays. Coaches watch the field, strategize, and running plays in their head and then send in the players based on their strengths. But what about those players who never make it off of the bench – the benchwarmers. The benchwarmers can be found “holding down the bench for the active roster players”. And though there is no shame in not being a starter, most members of a team want more than just to wear the jersey. The truth is the benchwarmers want to play too. From that very thought comes the phrase, “Put me in, Coach” – words often said to the coach when you’re warming the bench, but you want to go in so you can win the game.”
The heart of a quality school is grounded in great leadership. When distributed among a team of individuals with diverse skillsets and experiences, the staff develops a shared mission to drive positive change throughout a school. As a school administrator, one should seek to know the strengths of your staff. Ask yourself: What does Mrs. Williams do well that I know about? that I do not know about? What is their most important contribution to the daily operations of your school? How can their strengths be utilized to lead in the school, grade team, or classroom?
But what happens when the administrator is reluctant to offer opportunities within their school to take on leadership roles and more than not, the staff members appear to have no desire or take the necessary initiative to lead. Just because we use the words distributive leadership to describe the willingness to share the work, it does not mean a school will not struggle to gain a sincere interest in leading. The need for the “authentic” distribution of leadership requires internal coherence and unity, a clear focus, and two-way communication.
Coherence and Unity
As the leader of a school, there were times when I felt as if I had to be a part of every step, for every initiative to ensure our school’s success. In fact, I have personally been told by central services, “If you do not have your eyes on it, it will not get done.” When taking on that leadership style, I quickly found out that I was exhausting myself and isolating my staff from the opportunity to be a part of the change from initial conception to success. When I should have been creating opportunities to ensure coherence and unite our ideas regarding forward movement, I was creating a boundary that neither side was willing to cross. Coherence and unity have the ability to ensure your school is not riddled with inconsistencies that are hindering your school’s improvement. By relinquishing some of the responsibility to your staff you are able to truly survey and servethe needs of the students and the professionals in your building. We have to ensure practices do not overload or cause fragmentation that hinders the school’s ability to make effective progress.
Many years ago, I read an article that said, in 1961 while then, President John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor. President Kennedy asked the gentleman what he did at NASA. To which the janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon!” That one statement lets us know that the janitor understood that his role was a true contribution to the work at NASA. It was as if he too was a member of the Space Team. Has a clear focus been established for your school? Does your staff know what it is, and are they committed to doing the work to ensure it comes to prurition? Let’s be honest – the day-to-day distractions of running a school can eat away at the central focus of improving your school. However, as administrators, part of our ongoing responsibility is to ensure that the school has a shared clear focusthat is accepted and respected by the staff. It is deeper than a few words we post on a wall, add to the weekly memo, or turning it into a new catchy hashtag. Our focus should be on students’ intellectual and academic growth. It must become a matter of teachers’ self-regulation instead of a reaction to external voices.
I recently bought my three-year old a walkie talkie. It was her first, so I was super excited about teaching her to use it because it was one of my favorite toys as a child. With batteries installed and the button shifted to on, we began the fun. I used my walkie to show her how to press the button and when to talk. Enthusiastic to share the experience, I ran to the other room to begin communicating. But in mere seconds, the fun came to a screeching halt. Only one of the walkie talkies worked. I checked the batteries and tapped the back of the device but still nothing. Similar to what we might encounter in a school setting, our communication was one-sided. In the room next to me was an eager little girl pressing the button and talking away, but her one-sided conversation went unanswered. When distributing leadership in the school setting, this can be the case as well. Two-way communication provides the foundation on which solid professional partnerships are created. When school leadership and staff communicate effectively, positive relationships are developed and maintained, and students make progress. Once leadership is distributed, roles are assumed, expectations are established, and the work should begin. When the lines of communication are clear and ongoing, it ensures information is meaningful to the established focus and will be used and leveraged into positive action that all stakeholders (administration, staff, families, and communities) can take. It also ensures that as the administrator in the building I have knowledge of the progress we are making while willingly relinquishing responsibility to my other staff members.
Contrary to the old idea that the principal has to do it all, distributive leadership does not release complete ownership of the school but instead allows for a way to essentially connect your staff to the “effective change” better known as – the work. The ideal situation is where staff is united, the focus is clear, and the communication is fluid. In a building such as this, schools have the ability to impact student success and professional growth. The benchwarmers now take on positions that allow them to showcase their strengths. The bench becomes free of warmers and the field is bursting with players who are knowledgeable and committed to the win. Put me in, Coach! I have been waiting for this moment.
–from Nakia’s desk