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Heads Beware!

I have spent 19 years of my professional career in the classroom and 31 years as an independent school administrator (19 of those as Head of School). Just recently I became aware of a new progressive educational movement called “the Democratic, Distributed Leadership Model.” We all know that education is very open to progressive ideas because the field is always open to improvement and because there is no known "best way" to educate anyone. But we also know that a number of these progressive models have been sad failures. I am sure you remember “classrooms without walls.”

Distributed Leadership is a progressive idea that began in the early years of the 21st Century. It is a very well meaning and thoughtful model of how to make educational leadership more transparent and make better use of the collective talent in our schools.

But I am warning you to be aware of a very dangerous and poorly researched new model called “Democratic, Distributed Leadership.” In this model teachers run the schools. “The entire faculty controls all decisions at the school.” It is a progressive model that had its start in the public schools of Europe.

I tell you to beware because in these crazy times it could become the next “classrooms without walls.” In my 50 years in school-work, I have never heard a teacher complain that she or he was under worked. In fact, it has always been the opposite. Teachers lament that they have no time; that they are running on overload. In our independent schools, faculty teach a full load, run to their after school coaching or activity assignment, have usually 8 to 12 student advisees, go home and correct papers and then prepare their classes. And in our boarding schools the faculty have additional evening and weekend coverage assignments. When, I ask, are the faculty going to have the time to also run the school?

Democratic, distributed leadership is not only a silly idea, it is a dangerous one for independent schools. Certainly, if your board adopted this fad, you would hardly be needed and your solid six-figure salary would go away. Teachers do not want to run their schools. They do not want to make the difficult decisions – cut programs, fire fellow faculty, tell parents that their child is being expelled, decide to adopt a significant curricular change. Teachers want to have the autonomy of their classroom, teach their students, support their advisees and not have to worry about making the hard decisions that keep you heads up late into the night. Teachers running their schools is about as crazy as the 53 members of the New England Patriots making all the decisions for the organization.

As coach Bill Belichick says, “If everybody does his job, we will have a good chance to come out on top.”
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