Unleashing talent through shared responsibility

Shared leadership has been described by US educator and author Phil Schlechty as 'less like an orchestra, where the conductor is always in charge, and more like a jazz band, where leadership is passed around ...'

At St Paul's School in Queensland, the decision to adopt a collaborative staff model that encourages distributed leadership was borne out of its vision to be a leader in educational thinking and practice.

Learning Managers, leading subject areas and year groupings, work collaboratively with Heads of Learning - who primarily coach and mentor teachers and, in turn, work closely with Executive Director of Teaching and Learning, Jon Andrews.

'What we have is lots of people empowered to do really important jobs that once upon a time might have been the domain or responsibility of maybe just a few,' Andrews explains.

St Paul's is also a Lab Site for the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) project Learning Frontiers, leading and collaborating with a cluster of Queensland schools.

Its leadership restructure happened in 2008, the same time that Headmaster Dr Paul Browning joined the school. 'One of the things that was identified very early on is that we were very 'top heavy' - there was a lot of talent screaming to be unleashed, if you like,' Andrews tells Teacher.

'The headmaster was very keen to unlock that potential because he'd obviously seen in [other schools] that when you use a distributive leadership model and unlock other people and give them responsibility, organic growth in an organisation ... happens in lots of different areas.'

To help drive its vision, St Paul's created The Centre (The Centre for Research Innovation and Future Development). It runs between 30 and 40 professional learning courses for staff every year, with topics including classroom design, action research and neuroscience.

Under the leadership restructure, five Heads of Learning were created, based on the capabilities and competencies the school wanted to see in students: Creativity, Entrepreneurialism, Design Thinking, Sustainability and Inquiry. 'They were the kind of skills that we wanted inculcated, not just in day-to-day episodes of lessons, but [across all curriculum areas and throughout all years]. So, it's like a lens that you put over learning and say "we're going to really have a look at the Creative approach to unpacking this problem", or "we'll cover this bit of the curriculum through the Design lens".

'What it meant was, by having these five people in place we were able to distribute responsibility for developing teacher practice using a very specific array of [pedagogical] coaches.'

Andrews, who joined the Anglican P-12 school two years ago, says the distributed leadership model can help develop organisational trust. 'It's a cascade effect, if you like. We [have] the headmaster entrusting myself and my colleague and then we in turn ... entrust and empower people to take on and drive improvement in teaching and learning.

'... Then we have Heads of Houses, who [are co-responsible] for growing holistic education and growing really quality pastoral care with what we call Learning Managers (or heads of department). So, although on a piece of paper it might look like it's hierarchical, it flattens really quickly.'

Other impacts include a greater focus on teaching and learning, and Andrews says this should lead to the growth and progress of students. 'I would say ... the biggest impact is actually on innovation. We have a really considerable amount of innovation occurring. Lots of trialling, experimenting, modelling, [as well as] a lot of sharing.'

He says evidence-informed practice is important, including trying to qualify and quantify the impact of these innovations. '[Then we can] ask the questions: What if? What's missing? or Where next?'.


Schlechty, P. (2001). Shaking up the Schoolhouse. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Related Teacher content: Distributed leadership - Professor Alma Harris explains what it is, what the evidence says, and if it could work for your school.

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