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Using the science of learning and development to design practices that support the whole child


Shared Leadership and Ownership

Most schools in the United States have not yet been designed toward the purpose of developing individual, whole children, given their unique strengths and needs. Therefore, for most schools, designing toward a whole-child purpose will require transformation, not simply tinkering around the edges of existing systems. Research on school transformation shows that effective shared leadership and ownership facilitates this type of change in schools, as all staff are empowered to drive toward meaningful, shared goals.

The spirit of shared leadership and ownership goes beyond defined or formalized leadership roles in schools. It encompasses a mindset of collective responsibility and strives to build a collective sense of efficacy among all stakeholders through inclusive decision making and capacity building. No singular person or group can lead sustainable, effective change in isolation. When leaders attempt top-down, high-control models for change, especially those that exclude, they risk reproducing and reinforcing inequitable systems, structures and outcomes. Exclusionary leadership also fails to create the types of environments in which adults thrive as empowered, active agents in their own learning and development. Redesigning and leading whole-child change efforts in shared, inclusive ways interrupts historical patterns of power and control and mirrors the positive context we seek to create for students.

---Split---Effective shared leadership and ownership also honors the highly relational aspects of how change happens. Engaging in transformational change is different from the implementation of a program or adoption of a set of technical best practices. Improvement science’s rapid cycles of learning, planning, reflecting and doing require individuals to participate in highly relational activities (e.g., sharing resources, seeking out new ideas, having critical conversations, reflecting on mistakes, collaborating on challenges, leveraging the expertise of others, etc.). Essentially, adult learning and development is also integrated. One cannot separate the change effort from the people engaging in it. Therefore, as schools work toward achieving comprehensive, holistic student outcomes, trusting relationships among staff must be explicitly cultivated. Fostering a sense of belonging among adults not only buffers occupational stress, but also promotes job satisfaction, well-being and engagement in shared beliefs, mindsets and goals — all necessary conditions for engaging in continuous improvement efforts.

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In summary, Shared Leadership and Ownership is NOT:

  • Defaulting to top-down, high-control models for change, even if the initiative is seen as high stakes, challenging or time consuming
  • Reproducing inequitable structures and outcomes by hoarding decision-making power
  • Providing tokenistic opportunities for input, feedback and participation in a change effort as opposed to partnering with others in authentic, inclusive, ongoing ways
  • Using one-size-fits-all programs and initiatives, effectively erasing and ignoring the context, experience and expertise of others

Shared Leadership and Ownership IS:

  • Supporting shared commitment to and responsibility for a whole-child purpose and goals
  • Including and valuing the expertise, skills and experiences of others, especially those most proximal to the challenges and problems to be solved
  • Embodying a continuous, multidirectional, multidimensional view of change
  • Empowering others to make decisions, engage in collaborative problem solving, and engage in collective learning and development
  • Creating environments for adults that are physically, emotionally and identity safe
  • Fostering trust-filled relationships and a sense of belonging among adults




Shared Leadership + Ownership Core Practices:

Select a core practice below to start redesigning:

The Role of Shared Leadership and Ownership

Use the following materials to dig deeper into the important role shared leadership and ownership plays in equitable, whole-child aligned, continuous improvement efforts.

Distributed Leadership and the Power of Teacher Leaders


This video features several Chicago Public School principals reflecting on how they engage in shared leadership and ownership via their Empowered Schools initiative. What do they report as the impact of shared leadership and ownership on school culture and community?

One principal says, “I, by nature, am a doer and a bulldozer. When there is a task or a problem, I just automatically think I am going to do X, Y, and Z to fix it. And as you know, that is a recipe for disaster…" Why do you think this common leadership tendency is a recipe for disaster in school improvement efforts?

[Video credit: Chicago Public Schools]

How Change Happens


Explore this tool to reflect on ways shared leadership and ownership can help us recondition existing mindsets about how change happens in schools.


Continuous Improvement Pitfalls


Explore this anchor visual that highlights common pitfalls in whole-child aligned continuous improvement efforts and use it to reflect on how you can avoid those pitfalls.


Equity Pause Planner


Use this tool to intentionally create space within whole-child aligned improvement processes for reflecting on and interrupting the perpetuation of inequitable leadership behaviors and mindsets.


"Getting Better At Getting More Equitable"


Read this report from West Ed. to learn about how education leaders see not only the promise of using continuous improvement to advance educational equity, but also the barriers, challenges, and implications for the field.

Continuous Improvement in Education


Read pages 3-10 of the executive summary from the Carnegie Foundation to reflect on what “continuous improvement” in education means. What do you think sets a continuous improvement approach to change in schools apart from other approaches?

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