Together We Stand; Divided We Fall—How Distributive Leadership Creates Greater Schools

August 22, 2016

This summer I was given the opportunity to speak on a panel for the Coalition for Teaching Quality. I went to Washington, DC with my principal and, along with a panel of teachers and students, we addressed US Senate and House policy staff.

During the briefing, we shared ideas outlined in policy papers being released regarding the Every Student Succeed Act. It was an impressive experience but had me wondering, “Why me? I’m nothing special. I’ve been fortunate enough to lead a cohort at Basic Academy for International Studies for National Board candidates that doubled in size, but what do I know about distributive leadership?” I quickly turned my thoughts to, “Why not me? My role in facilitating our cohort is exactly what distributive leadership is all about! Why shouldn’t my voice be heard?” It was this realization that renewed my belief that teacher empowerment is the only way to make our schools better!

Distributive leadership is the idea that more power should be given to teachers to create a more democratic system within the schools. It is the idea that administration alone does not make all the decisions for the school but rather, focuses on distributing leadership to teachers.

It is the idea that if we work united, we can work smarter, free up administration for other tasks (support, discipline, feedback, etc.), and keep teachers who want to lead, engaged in the greater good. It often seems that the only way for teachers to lead is by leaving the classroom to become administration. Not every teacher wants to do that, and often that is the only choice available. Investing more stock in these teachers and their opportunity to lead while still teaching should be a win-win!

So, now what? Not all administrative teams are open to sharing leadership with teachers and therefore, create more of an us vs. them mentality. What if you are a teacher interested in becoming a leader? Here are a few steps to consider on your journey:

  1. Find your passion. Each teacher has his/her own “lane,” if you will. For some it might be their content area, for others it may be student engagement, and for others it may be school policy. Pick your passion!
  2. Ask questions and offer solutions. What opportunities are out there for this? How can you make it better? No one wants to hear problem after problem. Brainstorm solutions!
  3. Network. Find people in your district, state, or area of expertise and start sharing! Social media is a treasure chest of resources to help share and find great ideas.
  4. Help others find their voice. Seek others and enroll them in finding their voices. We do this for our students every day; we need to do with our colleagues just as often! Empowered teachers make stronger teachers!

No one knows students better than their classroom teachers. If it isn’t us using our voices to help lead our schools, who will? We need to work together with our administration for what we are all here for: our students. If we do that, our schools will flourish. If not, our profession will be led by talking heads that have no real ties to the game and divided, we will all fall.

Mitzi Durham, NBCT

Mitzi Durham is a National Board Certified teacher beginning her 20th year of teaching. She teaches English 9 and is lead facilitator for a National Board cohort of 50 candidates at Basic Academy of International Studies. She lives in Las Vegas with her husband and 3 daughters. Follow her on Twitter @mstolzin.