Powerful Educators Disempowered

Great educators can be disempowered when a principal is insecure, afraid, or lacks vision. How does this happen? How can we turn it around?

A Culture of Disempowerment

How are teacher leaders shut down? How are passionate educators closed out? How do improvement and innovation come to a halt?

  1. Decision-making without culture building. It creates us vs. them. It makes strong teachers and strong leaders feel disempowered. It's a downward spiral for the culture from here. The work of the school is on the path to becoming a job.
  2. The leadership circle is a safety net. Instead of empowering leaders. Meetings are information sharing. Leaders are chosen to be a part of this circle based on personality, compliance, or status quo.
  3. Keeping your distance fuels your security. It also undermines your ability to build trust, engage your staff, and really know how your vision meets reality. Could these be a lack of vision?
Let's turn this leadership scenario around. Three points of focus can do the trick.
Serve and watch insecurity leave.

Let Go of Insecurity

There is a deep-seated fear that says, "You're not good enough." What causes that little voice to become so big? To control and shape our daily behaviors in ways we know isn't fruitful? Here is my shortlist of non-licensed psychology:
  1. Recent failure lingers like a hovering Snicker bar. Do you see it floating overhead? Feel its dark, square lines ready to crush you again? It tempts you to reach up for it. Recent failure can cause strange inhibitions. You dream up scenarios that don't exist...like the Snicker bar. Those scenarios have real and strong emotions that you can't shake!
  2. You believe in perfection. You look around and know you are not perfect. You feel overwhelmed by your flaws. You are certain those flaws outweigh your strengths. They will lead to failure if anyone notices them. You believe.
  3. You are anxious in the presence of others. It's okay. It's a natural fight or flight instinct that is trying to protect you from rejection. You feel others evaluating you. It causes awkwardness in your interactions, but you can't calm yourself. 
Here is the good news. These reasons for insecurity can be eradicated. The solution is simple: serve others. 

When you muster the courage to step out and serve, you will find some startling facts. People aren't evaluating you like you thought. Your flaws don't outshine your strengths. Your service outshines your flaws. Failure fades quickly when you add value to the lives around you.

Insecurity can vanish.

People First

With insecurities shed, engagement can occur. Their needs can be put before the needs of the leadership. In doing so, their experiences and ideas find value. 

What are the teachers thinking? What challenges do they face? The leaders who know the current reality can change it. A principal who understands the present
can envision something better. Knowing the teachers is the starting spot. Listening is the key to knowing.

A principal who leads with questions is leading with her ears. She is guiding thoughts by engaging them in dialogue. Daily interactions are opportunities to learn from people. There is no need to meander through conversations. Engage with staff. They are full of experience. Their perspectives matter!

Open Decision-Making

Shared decision-making is the common phrase. It takes the meaning of improvement committees. Ugh, that's a bureaucratic word! It implies compliance and status quo. This can change.

Leadership and decision-makingOpen decision-making is not a common leadership phrase. It means decision-making is a fluid and open process. It is dynamic and not dependent on political ties or personal interest. Every team member is valuable to the process. An empowered school culture relies on open processes. 

Decision-making is the leader's responsibility. It can be used to engage the campus. The process of decision-making is not confused with a weekly meeting. It is not misconstrued as an annual form for staff to complete. It is an opportunity to build the campus culture into a machine (a word used with hesitation) that pumps out massive improvement!

Open decision-making is best thought of as layers. Each layer empowers the campus to take hold of the current reality and press toward the vision. Here are three vital layers.

Read here for Visibility and Decision-Making

Qualitative Data

The first layer is simple, but it requires a commitment to people. It is the gathering of input during daily dialogue. Seek to discover challenges and problems from those dialogues. Snowball your conversations (more on that in another blog post). The snowballs build into the actions in the next two layers. 

Dynamic team creation

It is the idea that focused, short-term teams can solve urgent problems better than isolated office leaders. The principal invites, "Hey folks, I just want you to know I've heard this challenge several times. Can you help me create a solution that matches our vision?" It is an open invitation to be involved.

The dynamic teams are empowered to address issues. They are authorized to implement creative solutions. The school leadership participates in progress checks to evaluate the results within 3-4 weeks. The next layer is the formal layer of open decision-making.

Types of Leadership Teams 

Two to three leadership teams need to meet consistently. These teams of teacher leaders, specialists, and administrators meet monthly. They represent multiple cross-sections of the school. There is no overlap among these leadership teams, and they maintain membership through at least one year to drive ongoing improvement.

Curriculum Leadership. Your most impactful team is curriculum leadership. Developing this team is the first priority. These are the department heads who know great instruction and lead great instruction. They address school improvement, instructional climate, and student data. When intervention solutions are needed, they create them. When professional learning is flailing, they innovate.

Grade-level Leadership. The next team is a grade-level leadership team to address campus events, calendars, communication, and logistical concerns. Detailed oriented teachers from each grade are great on this team. They represent the cross-sections of students, parents, and student activities. The secretary is included. This team is invaluable to well-oiled campus communication!

Campus Climate Team. A third team that applies to all campuses is a campus climate team. It is made of teachers and students. Their charge is to drive data collection to better gain the "feel" of the school. Informal data is gathered in monthly discussions. 

This powerful data source gives the on-the-ground "outsider" perspective. This vantage helps the principal and staff to maintain grounded in the current reality. They also help design the target areas for formal data collection. You can't sustain long-term improvement without this team!

There are probably a dozen other solutions that can empower educators. You'll find the three focal points here are a great starting place to shape a culture of empowerment. A school culture that values experience, grows expertise, and develops talent throughout the school must be achieved! It can be achieved.

For more discussion on school leadership and campus climate and culture, please read:


Thank you for reading, and please share with a colleague!


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