Growing Leaders: An Approach to Educator Development
Lynne Miller and Cindy O'Shea
Maine, like many other states, has been experiencing a leadership
crisis. Eight years ago, ten Southern Maine Partnership superintendents
decided to do something about it. In the spirit of collaboration
that the Partnership promotes, the ten district leaders co-constructed
with university faculty a new approach to leadership development:
the Leadership for Tomorrow's Schools program ( LTS). The idea
for a new kind of leadership development had been germinating
for some time among a subset of Southern Maine Partnership superintendents
who had formed smaller regional alliances so they could collaborate
more intensely on issues of curriculum, teaching, and assessment.
The notion of "growing our own leaders" was born of
necessity. Maine is a resource-poor state; its districts are small
and cannot afford the array of central office administrators that
exist in other locales. But, Maine is rich in exceptional classroom
teachers. And it is that resource that superintendents decided
to harvest. Planning took place on an island in Casco Bay, where
a group of public school educators, university faculty, and business
leaders spent two rain-soaked days together. The agenda was clear:
to agree on the kind of leadership that districts would require
for the future and to develop design principles to guide the preparation
of leaders for that future. Participants reviewed documents that
described the conditions of schooling as they exist in the present
and how they might appear in the desired future. The galvanizing
idea was that each district would identify emerging leaders and
invite them to participate in a program that would prepare them
for new roles in their schools and district. There was agreement
that the program should combine academic courses and real-life
work in a seamless fabric of experiences.
The key elements in the program design were identified as:
- Building a program on the basis of desired futures for schools
rather than a skill set.
- Developing a common language for and about teaching, learning,
- Holding districts responsible for identifying and nurturing
leaders, and making leadership development integral to their work.
- Engaging school districts and the university in a partnership
where both entities are willing to forgo "business as usual"
and create new ways to advance school leadership.
- Developing a professional community through a cohort group
that stays together for two years.
- Having participants involved in the real work of the districts
as well as university courses.
A cohort of 30 teachers completed LTS in the spring of 2001.
They completed fifteen hours of graduate credit. Practical work
in the districts was part of all course requirements; demonstrations
of application to local issues and problems comprised a major
portion of course assessments; and final exhibitions took the
form of presentations to district leadership teams. Graduate credits
that were earned as part of LTS can now be applied toward advanced
degrees at the university _ in programs that have been especially
designed to accommodate this unique experience.
LTS is now preparing for its fourth cohort, this one aimed at
growing leaders in the middle and high schools of the region.
Over time, the program has been refined to meet changing needs
and to reflect new understandings. For instance, in the third
cohort (2002-2004) there was a change in the sequence of courses.
The original sequence began with the study of leadership and organizational
behavior and followed with a focus on teaching, learning, and
assessment. District work was initiated at the beginning of the
two-year cycle and continued for the entire length of the cohort
experience. Third cohort revisions reversed the order of courses,
leading off with an emphasis on teaching, learning, and assessment_
areas more familiar to and resonant with the experience of classroom
teachers. LTS participants not only studied theory and practice
of teaching, learning, and assessment, but engaged with their
district teammates in a cycle of three classroom observations.
They formed partner groups and assumed the role of observer and
observed. Each cycle consisted of goal-setting, observation, debriefing,
written feedback and observations. The culminating activity for
each group was to formulate a plan of action concerning teaching,
learning, and assessment and to schedule a presentation for the
following year to the school.
At the end of the first years, district teams formulated a plan
of action concerning teaching, learning and assessment and presented
it to the district leadership teams. Then, the teams were able
to co-construct their district work for the next year. This new
sequence proved to be very effective, connecting participants
to the learning agenda of the school and providing opportunity
to rehearse their ideas before they were asked to implement them.
District work in the second year reflected the quality of preparation
and planning that took place in the previous year.
Now, as LTS enters its fourth cycle, it is poised to engage its
next cohort group in a program that is more sophisticated in both
theory and practice. It is informed by the idea of "legitimate
peripheral participation... the process by which newcomers become
included in a community of practice" and learn how to become
full participants in and practitioners of new roles. (Wenger,
1998, p.100) Key to the idea of legitimate peripheral practice
are six practices: (1) having legitimate access to a community
of school leaders, (2) engaging in the practice of leadership,
first in peripheral ways and ultimately as full participants,
(3) "performing " the practice of leadership, (4) fostering
identity as leaders and the motivation to lead, and (5) helping
district leadership to change (Lieberman & Miler, 2004).
Leadership for Tomorrow's Schools is a living example of a new
kind of educator development where school districts and the university
respond to the crisis in leadership by joining together to grow
Lieberman, A., & Miller, L. (1999).
Teachers: Transforming their world and their work. New York: Teaches
Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning,
and identity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.