Teacher-Leadership for Academic Excellence

Teacher-Leadership for Academic Excellence:
Capacity Building that Provides a Pipeline of Future Administrators

leadersIn the context of recruiting, selecting, and hiring principals, a Human Resources professor from NYU once said to me, “Past performance is the greatest predictor of future performance.” If we want new administrators to be as prepared as they can be for their first year of leadership, then we have to, at the very least, provide them opportunities to lead while they are teachers. Better yet, we should immerse all teachers in developing their professional capital.

What is capacity building? According to Fullan and Quinn, “Capacity refers to capability of the individual or organization to make the changes required and involves the development of knowledge, skills and commitments.” Within the context of a school, this notion of capacity is specific to the individual teacher, assistant principal, principal, and the education, experience, and skills they bring to their school. The concept of collective capacity applies to the group; that is, the developing and developed capacity of the group. This includes teams of teachers, teams of teachers and leaders, and teams of leaders within a school and across schools. Fullan and Quinn say, “Collective capacity building involves the increased ability of educators at all levels of the system to make the instructional changes required to raise the bar and close the gap for all students.”

Administrators appreciate the need to work with teachers to develop their capacity to manage, motivate, plan, teach, and assess students, as well as the need to pull teachers together in grade level teams or in departments to develop common practices and problem solve. While individualized attention may be necessary for on-boarding a new teacher to a school community, their growth and the growth of the faculty as a whole is best established by developing the capacity of the whole. Effective leaders, including administrators and teachers, assess and create a culture for academic excellence; they evaluate data sources, share and analyze data, and use it for goal setting; they evaluate and align curricula, assessments, instructional strategies, and resources. Effective leaders create this positive culture that embraces data and purposefully refines teaching and learning to meet the needs of all students via collaborative teams of educators who are focused on academic excellence priorities.

Distributed leadership is one approach to developing a pipeline of future administrators. Authentic distributed leadership involves teachers carrying out activities, such as leading professional development or mentoring new teachers. However, oftentimes distributed leadership manifests itself as delegated duties that remove or share some of the tasks, like developing school schedules, which are often assumed by administrators. While learning how to do these delegated tasks may help add to an individual teacher’s breadth of experience, these tasks assigned to single teachers are not developing the capacity of the faculty as a whole. The same may be true of well-intentioned distributed leadership, wherein just one or a handful of teachers actually shoulder leadership responsibilities. By investing in developing the collective capacity of all teachers, administrators are cultivating a collaborative culture where everyone is developing their professional capital. According to Fullan, “. . . [principals] should get at it by working with teachers individually and collectively to develop their professional capital.”

When administrators implement collective capacity building practices, such as assessing and shaping a positive school culture, as well as providing the time, training, and support for professional learning communities to exist and thrive, those administrators are modeling what it is to be a school that embraces data and curriculum, instructional refinement, and student achievement.

In a collective capacity scenario, all teachers engage with energy and/or expertise, learning alongside their peers and challenging colleagues for the sake of student achievement; that is, for raising the bar and closing the gap. Wagner (2006) outlines three culture-building categories in the article, The School Leader’s Tool for Assessing and Improving Culture; these include: professional collaboration, affiliative collegiality, and self-determination/efficacy. While it is the task of the administration to assess school culture, shaping and improving school culture is the responsibility of administrators, as well as, faculty. The payoff of developing a positive culture is significant. Referencing studies conducted by Melton-Shutt (2002) in Kentucky and Cunningham (2003) in Florida, Wagner succinctly summarizes the correlation between culture and student achievement: “In every case, the higher the score on the [culture] survey, the higher the state assessment score, and the lower the [culture] survey score, the lower the state assessment score.”

Bill Treasurer recently wrote in a management blog, “The best part of leading is bringing out the leader in others.” Treasurer doesn’t say one other, rather others, plural. Collective capacity building not only pays off in improving student achievement, but it also pays off in developing a greater number of teacher-leaders, more of whom may discern a call to leadership and be better prepared to assume the helm when they answer that call.


Fullan, M. (2014). The principal: Three keys to maximizing impact. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Fullan, M. and Quinn, J. (2010). Capacity building for whole system reform. Available at: http://www.michaelfullan.ca/media/13435862150.html

Treasurer, B. (2015). The best part of leading. Available at: http://smartblogs.com/leadership/2015/04/02/the-best-part-of-leading/

Wagner, C.R. (December, 2006). The school leader’s tool for assessing and improving culture. Principal Leadership, 41-44.


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