Canva illustration of shared leadership by Priyanka Jethani
This article is written and shared by Priyanka Jethani based on 15 interviews she conducted virtually with administrators from different parts of the world on their perspectives of shared leadership.
Why is shared leadership an issue that moves and motivates me? What is it that has driven me to believe in this form of leadership? I feel that the world needs this kind of leadership—one that is built on trust, honesty, is authentic, sets clear expectations, and empowers others in the community to grow and learn and prosper.
And when I mention trust, I’d like to acknowledge what Mark Ketterhagen, High School Instructional Coach at The International School of Panama, shared with me on the subject. “Trust is built through vulnerability. We need to create safe spaces where people get to know each other, are honest and open to talking not only about their strengths but their weaknesses too.”
So, here’s the story of how this journey began. During the 2019–2020 school year, every educator, administrator, coach, or teaching assistant had to design their professional learning plan (PLP). I had just enrolled myself in The Virtual Assistant Principal Academy with Principal Baruti K. Kafele. It was here that I was first introduced to the concept of shared leadership, and thus the inquiry began.
One of the first books I read was Shared Leadership: Reframing the Hows and Whys of Leadership by Craig L. Pearce & Jay A. Conger. I had many takeaways from that reading; one of them referred to team empowerment where authority is placed in the hands of frontline workers who best understand the work that needs to be completed.
“Frontline empowerment enhances mutual adjustment, communication, coordination and accountability among peers.” They also pointed out that empowered teams experience better collaboration and coordination with new and innovative solutions to problems. I have barely begun to scratch the surface of this book and highly recommend it.
Now, I was sure that I wanted to investigate further on this phenomenon, so I came up with my first PLP question in the SY 2019–2020 which had two parts to it.
- How does shared leadership maximize the potential of the team for the betterment of our students?
- How does shared leadership empower and encourage the Grade 7 team to collectively achieve our goals?
I had several meetings with Kyle Martin, my administrative partner and Middle School Assistant Principal, in which we broke down the question to see how we could adopt it to my role as G7 Team Leader. At the end of the year some of my reflections were:
- As a TL, I was able to build trust with my colleagues in assigning them tasks which in return benefitted all students and helped us collectively achieve our goals.
- I was able to help support a strong advisory program where every student knew that they were cared for.
- I planned a service-learning activity with the G7 team that produced such an enriching feeling seeing our students work so hard to get the school the basic necessities they required.
This year was no different, as I wanted to delve deeper into this form of leadership. I took a different approach, however, and adjusted my question. The plan this time was to survey my team both at the start of the year and again at the end of the year to see if they had noticed a difference in my leadership style as a Team Leader. My PLP question for the current school year 2020–2021 is, “How can the use and implementation of shared leadership lead to individual empowerment in a grade-level team?”
Kyle Martin, currently the MS Principal happens to be my administrative partner again. Yippee! I am thrilled, as he had been such a huge help last year serving as my coach and mentor. Kyle and I came up with a series of questions as a pre-survey for the G8 team. Yes, I was moved to that role this year! I was apprehensive, as I was leaving my comfort zone, but am glad that I did. It has been a pleasant challenge and I can’t thank my entire team enough for their positive and critical feedback, which has enabled me to grow.
The presurvey had two sections. Section 1 was how the G8 team saw me as a leader and section 2 was about how they felt being a part of the G8 team. The survey revealed extremely favorable feedback. I was blown away by the results.
- It was fascinating to see the ways in which we had built trust through virtual meetings
- As a team, we showed that we cared for each other
- Everyone’s voice was important and was being heard
- We were honest and knew that we were not being judged in what we said or did
- Everyone felt valued as a member of the G8 team
All of this was fascinating, and I knew life is not always a bed of roses. I recognize I’m not perfect and I really appreciated the honesty of my team to help identify some of my weaknesses, which have helped me to grow and learn from. One of them being what do we need to work on as a team to create a strong working environment. I have been efficiently trying out different ways to achieve this goal of mine.
Matthew MacInnes, Athletics Director at The International School of Panama, shared examples of his learning and growing journey. While he was at ASF in Mexico, his supervisors saw the potential he had and trusted to invest in him. He was promoted into an administrative role. Matthew believes that as a leader, something he needs to work on is to grow and develop other leaders. As an AD, he has had to share his responsibilities and goals, as he had not one or two but seven different sports to handle in one school. “Trust is tough,” he mentioned, because when working with coaches from different cultural backgrounds, you need to understand them through their actions.
Matt is leaving his “shared leadership footprint' at ISP by serving as a mentor and coach to one of our PE teachers. This PE teacher was recently promoted and will become our next Athletics Director as Matt moves on to new adventures awaiting him. Inspiring, right?
I’d also like to mention Julia Reynen, the Founder of Clear Crossing Academy and a former colleague and friend of mine, who shared her journey in shared leadership and her beliefs on the subject. “I am what I am because of shared responsibility,” she echoes. Julia also reiterates what every other leader has vocalized: that building relationships and knowing the person as a whole—strengths and weaknesses—and having effective communication while being transparent are key factors of shared leadership.
Julia also shared that at a previous organization where she worked, they had a strategic plan aimed at attracting and retaining top talent. Developing and promoting exemplary teachers through meaningful professional learning and advancement opportunities. I was so intrigued with what she shared that I had a second interview with her to understand this concept better. I’m now preparing a proposal to be shared with administration at my school.
What are my next steps as part of this PLP journey? Post-survey my team? New initiatives that I’d like to propose to ISP? Strategic planning?
Priyanka Jethani is a MS EAL Specialist/G8 Team Leader/WIDA K-12 Coordinator at The International School of Panama and has more than 23 years’ experience in education.
Pearce, Craig L. Shared Leadership: Reframing the Hows and Whys of Leadership. Sage Publ., 2008.