"Just tell us what you want to do already" said one of my teachers. I was meeting with a group that spent over a year researching a curriculum program. Another group of teachers came up with an idea for implementing this program that I thought was worth sharing. "Do you think these other folks have a good idea here we should examine?" I asked the research group. My question didn't come off too well; hence, the request for me to "just make a decision."
This scene frustrated me because for so long I had been trying to change the district's culture from one that was used to a top-down leadership model to one that had teachers taking ownership over important decisions. I believe heartily in teacher leadership because I've seen the way teachers become intrinsically motivated to help school reform along when they've had a lot to do with enacting that reform.
What does it take to change the culture? There is plenty of research that concludes the rituals and procedures common to a school are what largely defines its culture (Goodlad, 1984; Deal, 1988; Donahoe, 1997; McLaren, 1999). Can teachers in my school district take hold of their curricula, and the instructional philosophies that guide their work so that they lead the district to become a world class institution? I think they can as long as I consistently and persistently change the way the district makes important decisions. I suspect that within two to three years, my faculty will see that I mean what I say and mean what I do when I give up the decision-making process to the people who have the expertise to make the important decisions.
This is not to say that leaders shouldn't have the final word on some decisions. Glickman (2008) will tell you that school administrators must make decisions when safety of children and adults is an immediate concern or when people are operating at a low developmental level, thus requiring intervention by the leader. I apply another rule of thumb to determining when I must make a decision. When impasses arise among different parties and consensus cannot be reached, I will step in to point everyone forward. These instances are far and few between.
I returned to the scene of the "culture crime" a day later and spoke with the teacher who told me to "just make a decision." I told her not to worry, that a decision would be made but it would have to be made on my leadership terms. Through consensus we would finalize our plans and move forward on our initiative.
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