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Building Leadership Capacity

STRATEGY: Build capacity among the leadership team and school building leaders to ensure long-term sustainability.

Building capacity among the leadership team and school building leaders forces educators to look at new ways of capitalizing on the talent and potential of each individual, reinventing their roles, and exploring the development of open teams, where power and authority are distributed in new ways to ensure long-term sustainability. School leaders are only as strong and effective as the people who surround and support them. Creating a collaboratively focused leadership team is an important first step toward neutralizing the problems of a vertical leadership structure. Teacher leadership can break patterns of resistance built up by the hierarchy and builds a sense of collective responsibility.


Creating a shared leadership team is an important first step toward building leadership capacity to ensure long-term sustainability. A leadership team is composed of people with differing skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and strategies for which they hold themselves accountable; they are individual members of the whole, joined together by what Robert Marzano calls a “culture of commitment.” The leadership team is not a vehicle for the micromanagement of the school; rather, it should serve as the driving force behind change.

First Steps to Consider

  • Consider completing a survey that assesses the dispositions, knowledge, and skills needed to build leadership capacity. It should be completed not only by the school’s leaders but also by people who work under those leaders, so that a complete picture is obtained.
  • Develop a feedback loop with staff and other members of the school community, asking specific questions about initiatives or programs and more general questions about culture and leadership style.
  • If the school doesn’t already have a leadership team, assemble one.
  • Share discussions and activities at grade-level, team, or department meetings. These teams create an annual calendar that includes the leadership team’s monthly meeting and indicates which meetings are open to the larger school community.

Complexities & Pitfalls

  • While leadership can be complicated work, it is work that can be learned by every member of the school community. To that end, skilled leaders proactively create training and opportunities for others to learn leadership skills. It cannot be assumed that people will just pick up their leadership skills and knowledge; they need to be taught.
  • School change is a collective endeavor; people should undertake this work with others, not in isolation. The learning journey must be shared, or united purpose and action will not be achieved and sustained.
  • When teachers want leadership-focused work, some school leaders may become suspicious and threatened; they may not see the advantage of growing a cadre of leaders in the school, and simply wish to hold on to power. A comparison to this type of shared leadership model can be found in the classroom where effective teachers see their students as partners and move the locus of power from themselves to their charges.

Guiding Questions

  • What is the school trying to accomplish with this work, and how is leadership prepared to help? Has the shared purpose for improvement been articulated and agreed on by all?
  • How will leadership measure its effectiveness? What dispositions, knowledge, and skills are needed to build leadership capacity at the school?
  • Do school personnel share a “culture of commitment” regarding the school and its future path? How is that known and measured?