Calibrate Your Leadership Style to “Collaborate”

Self-assessment and feedback are important factors in leading the team efforts that produce improved student outcomes.

Topics: Assistant Principals, Principal Leadership

Today’s elementary educators agree that collaboration is crucial to ensuring student success. Or—as a comprehensive review of research released in February by The Wallace Foundation says—collaboration is “a key element of a productive school climate.”

Defining collaboration as practices universal to all interpersonal activity in schools, “How Principals Affect Students and Schools” says collaboration “involves working toward a common goal with shared resources, responsibilities, and accountability.”

It hasn’t always been the norm, however. In the past, top-down management and laissez-faire lesson plans were common. And collaboration isn’t necessarily an instructional leader’s natural default setting (See “What’s Your Leadership Style?” in the March/April 2021 Principal).

“We used to live in silos,” says Alice Shull, a longtime educator and NAESP-certified mentor. “Every teacher did their own thing, and each school in a system was its own entity. There really is no room for that in schools anymore. If you can’t collaborate, you’re in the wrong profession.”

Facilitating Teamwork

While the report focuses on principals’ responsibility to facilitate collaboration with professional learning communities (PLCs), teams, and other structures, the linchpin of any effort is typically the AP charged with providing hands-on instructional leadership and support.

“The AP is in a pivotal role,” Shull says. “They may be managing teacher teams, IEPs, PLCs, and other projects. But in all of these cases, the necessity for collaboration is critical. If we put together strong, collaborative teams, we come out with a better work product.”

APs who want to ensure that they are working toward school goals effectively may have to do some soul-searching—and some self-assessment—to determine if their style is collaborative enough to improve student outcomes, and where their own strengths and weaknesses might lie.

Multiple assessments are available. The widely used Leadership Compass, for example, goes beyond the authoritarian/collaborative dichotomy to define four “compass points” of leadership attributes and how they might affect work style. ASCD also offers a variety of tests.

Such assessments ask you to rate yourself on statements such as:

  • Delegating work to others comes easily to me.
  • I’m proactive in offering constructive criticism.
  • I integrate others’ input in determining which direction to take.

You might also opt to engage in self-reflection, using questions such as:

  • Do members of the teams I facilitate share confidence and trust in one another?
  • Do our school’s grade-level teams enthusiastically support each other?
  • Does my team handle conflicts and differences of in opinion effectively?

Asking for Feedback

Once you’ve figured out the prominent elements of your style and where improvements might be made, consider asking a mentor, coach, principal, or team for their input. Open-ended questions like the following can turn collaboration into a conversation:

  • What were your expectations and how well did we meet them?
  • What should I/we do differently the next time we take on a project like this?
  • What were the issues that made this less successful than it could have been?

Such back-and-forth may inspire members of your teams to assess their own strengths and weaknesses. Remember, effective collaboration doesn’t mean that everyone is equally skilled at everything—only that every participant lends their best talents in service to the greater good.

“If you don’t have some of these attributes, you can work with others who have those strengths,” Shull says. You can have a leadership team with complementary skills—teams that have all different strengths. Let’s bring the best we have to the table to work together.”