The Power of “We Do”: Collaborative Leadership Amid Chaos by Aneela Junaid

Imagine navigating a busy intersection during rush hour. Cars honk, pedestrians dart across the street, and distractions abound. It’s easy to get tunnel vision, focusing solely on getting yourself through the chaos. However, the most skilled drivers anticipate the movements of others, working together to navigate the intersection safely.

This collaborative spirit is also essential for school leadership. While a strong leader is crucial, the most effective approach isn’t a one-man show but rather a collaborative dance. This is where leading from the middle comes in.

The Drift Towards Extremes

Many leaders experience a “drift” towards extremes under pressure. They might become the sole problem-solver, dictating solutions (“I do”). Alternatively, they might delegate everything, hoping others will magically find the answers (“You do”).

Finding the “We Do” Sweet Spot

The most successful leaders avoid these extremes and embrace the “we do” approach. This collaborative leadership style prioritizes working together to understand problems, explore solutions, and achieve shared goals.

Here’s how to cultivate “We Do” Leadership:

  1. Embrace Questions, Not Solutions: The first step is recognizing you’re not the sole answer machine. Instead of offering solutions before fully understanding the situation, focus on powerful questioning and active listening. This fosters trust and empowers others to contribute their unique perspectives.
  1. Communication Agreements for Clarity: Effective communication is critical to successful collaboration. Establishing explicit communication norms sets the stage for productive dialogue. Encourage everyone to “state views and ask genuine questions,” ensuring everyone understands the “why” behind ideas. 
  1. Diversity of Solutions, Unified Goals: Collaboration doesn’t require uniformity. While you might have a common goal (e.g., improving student writing), the path to achieving that goal can differ. Embrace diverse approaches and celebrate the creativity that teachers bring to the table. 

The Benefits of Leading from the Middle

Leading from the middle isn’t just about avoiding stress; it fosters a thriving school environment. Here’s how:

  • Teacher Ownership: By being involved in decision-making, teachers become invested in the solutions’ success. 
  • Innovation and Experimentation: Diversity of thought leads to creative problem-solving and a willingness to try new things.
  • Stronger Relationships: Collaboration builds trust and respect among teachers and administrators.

Leading from the middle isn’t about relinquishing control; it’s about harnessing the collective power of your team. By working together, you can navigate the complexities of school leadership and create a dynamic learning environment where everyone thrives.


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