School as Leadership Darkroom: Developing Leaders #Savmp

imageSo, for the SAVMP program, the weekly blogging topic (#5, but only my second), that George has assigned is as follows:

“For this week’s topic, I want you to think about how you develop leadership in your buildings/work. How do you promote others to lead? This is important to focus on whether we try to “control” our people, or “unleash” their talents. What are some of the things that you do that make this happen?”

This year, as I have been focusing a bit on growing teacher leadership, I have (re-)learned two lessons about developing leadership.


Lesson one started about more than one year ago. A teacher, we’ll call her Gladys, asked me if she should apply for the newly vacated position of Director of Curriculum for the district. Wow! Sure. Gladys is a great teacher with a fairly wide-ranging teaching experience. She’d proved willing and able to take on some building and district leadership roles. Go for it. But, wait. If Gladys were to go to central office, then she wouldn’t be here. Not sure I liked the sound of that. I kept my reservations to myself and encouraged her to apply. More qualified applicants came forward and Gladys did not get the job. We dodged that one – this time.


That brings us to this past June. Upon the sudden departure of another district principal, the superintendent asked what I thought about Gladys becoming principal. Wow! Sure. Gladys is a great teacher with a great attitude and ability to see the big picture. Through the last year, she’d taken on even more of a leadership role in the building. But wait, if Gladys were to go be a principal, then she wouldn’t be here. Not sure I liked the sound of that. This time, I shared my reservations. Gladys proved to be the most qualified candidate and got the job. No dodging this time.


A lesson from my old photography days (you know, with film), crept back into my mind. When you develop the negative (the film), it is in service of a positive (the print). Not exactly sure what that means, but the point is clear: when you actively work to develop a teacher into a teacher-leader, sometimes it works really well the teacher-leader wants to become a leader-leader.


The second lesson from the leadership darkroom, you can’t always be certain of what will develop once you start processing. Hmm.


With these two lessons, back under my belt, I enter this school year right back at it. I am actively working with a teacher or two to develop their leadership. They may move on or develop into something I don’t expect. I can handle that. Both lessons were part of why I loved developing photographs, and both lessons are why I love developing leaders.



  1. Hi Larry, It’s good to read a post from you. I always benefit from your wisdom. I wish more principals would follow your lead in this regard. There are a lot of us in the field that truly want to be teacher-leaders–we like what we can do in the classroom, we look forward to growing our practice as we work with children, and we want to share our ideas and insights too.

    I am a fan of restructuring roles and responsibilities in schools. Too often, teachers who want to stay in the classroom are relegated to having to follow the lead of inexperienced leaders who have not spent years in the classroom and don’t have the knowledge background that the teacher may have–this can be very frustrating.

    Yet, I truly appreciate the leaders who want the position because they truly like to lead, facilitate, and make an organization shine. Those leaders, like you, are willing to delegate and promote teacher-leadership while building strong learning communities in their buildings. The often used top-down, factory models in schools can serve to demean teachers who want to stay in the classroom, while models like the one you promote serve to uplift both teachers and leaders which in turn serves to lift the entire community and teach children well.

    I hope you’ll continue to write about this effort. Perhaps your words and similar words from other leaders can help to bring schools forward from “factories” to learning communities. Thanks. – Maureen

    September 15, 2013
    • Maureen,

      Thank you for the kind words.

      September 17, 2013

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