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Coaching Teachers To Be Leaders

What Do I Do When
Teachers Depend Too Much
On Me for Leadership?


A group of teachers and the principal assemble for their weekly School Leadership Team meeting to plan for an upcoming professional development day focused on reading strategies. The principal begins by handing out the agenda, which includes outcomes, times, and tasks. As is customary, the team starts with "reasons to celebrate" -- a ritual the principal embedded into the meetings in hopes of inspiring participation and pride. Surprisingly, nobody seems ready to share, so the principal takes a turn by saying...

"Our staff has become more data savvy. Our decision to focus our professional development time on reading strategies came straight from the data."
After everyone has a chance to share their reasons to celebrate, the principal proceeds with the agenda by taking input and guidance from teachers.

After the meeting, the principal feels that teachers weren't fully participating as leaders. Instead, teachers were depending too much on her for leadership. She wonders why and what can be done about it.


When teachers and principals share leadership they are charting a new course. As a community of leaders it can be difficult to know how to proceed. By default everyone falls into old ways of working. Signs that teachers depend too much on the principal for leadership include:

  • Teachers defer to the principal to make decisions.
  • Teachers wait to hear the principal's opinion before voicing their own.
  • Teachers seem stuck in inaction.
  • Teachers aren't exercising their authority.

Principals should be aware of shifts in participation and attitudes. Once aware they must understand the possible causes.

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It is not unusual from time to time for teachers to disengage from leadership activities. In fact, until teacher leadership becomes common practice in schools, disengagement is likely. Below are common reasons teachers disengage from leadership.

Traditional ideas of leadership. Teachers' active resistance to leadership may be due to traditional notions of leadership that don't fit well with the culture of teaching. They may view a leader as the lone person "in charge," someone who is the "boss" or "supervisor." Ideas that leaders need an authoritarian, command-and-control personality may cause teachers to reject leadership.

Lack of trust. Teacher leadership requires that both teachers and principals develop new ways of working based on trust. Trusting relationships are marked by open and honest communication, commitment to follow through, and fairness. If teachers don't trust that their leadership efforts will be valued, they will not participate.

Role confusion. When teachers become leaders they must straddle the line between teaching and leading activities. Striking a balance between responsibilities can be difficult, and teachers may fall back on their teacher-only role.

Teachers may depend too much on the principal for leadership for a variety of reasons. Fortunately principals can inspire full teacher-leader participation by establishing shared agreements.


Shared agreements promote a common understanding of collective action and individual responsibility. They outline policies and procedures for "getting the job done" and help to ease any anxiety teachers may have about leading. To create shared agreements simply address the 5Ws and 1H.

Who. Establish who is responsible for getting something done. That includes the team and individuals. (From the scenario presented at the start of this article where the staff decided to "focus our professional development time on reading strategies," the team is responsible for planning school improvement efforts, the team creates the agenda, and each member comes prepared to share ideas for the professional development day.)

What. Be specific about what needs to be done. It is helpful to specify tasks to be accomplished as well as actions to be taken. (From the scenario: Plan a method to illustrate to teachers what the data show about how students are performing in reading.)

When. Everyone must be aware of deadlines. Outline when and how often a task needs to be done. (From the scenario: Teachers will implement the reading strategies every day beginning tomorrow.)

Where. Consider different environments. For example, what will happen in the classroom? At the district office? (From the scenario: In the classroom, teachers will practice using the reading strategies.)

Why. Establish a sense of purpose for activities. (From the scenario: Understanding the importance of the "reasons to celebrate" ritual may help teachers actively participate.)

How. Ensure that everyone knows in what ways the job will get done. (From the scenario: At times the principal seemed to be the only active participant. The team could agree that everyone participates as equals.)

Even when a school has a vision of shared leadership, teachers may continue to depend too much on the principal. For a variety of reasons teachers may, at times, disengage from leadership activities. Creating shared agreements that specify collective action and individual responsibility is a powerful way to engage teacher leaders.

Read more of Ellen Cortez-Ford's nine-part Coaching Teachers To Be Leaders series.

Article by Evelyn Cortez-Ford
Education World®
Copyright © 2006 Education World