Creating a Distributed Leadership Model: Meet Demands by Sharing the Load

Do more by collaboratively sharing the guidance and direction of a school
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About This Strategy

This strategy addresses how to meet the numerous expectations of school leadership by leveraging the professional knowledge and skills of school faculty to collaboratively manage teaching and learning. The management shift to distributive leadership leverages the faculty expertise that is already present by distributing the oversight of academic improvement to those already charged with making it happen. Distributive leadership does not mean delegating day-to-day building and staff management; rather, it means maximizing the impact of the professional skills of the faculty.

A distributive leadership model can lead to a culture of collaboration, a collegial climate, and a system that distributes the tasks across the community rather than placing the administrative load onto one or a few individuals. Distributive leadership is rooted in a clear and specific shared understanding of the purpose of the model, and a belief system that celebrates and trusts the expertise of others.

This strategy provides a toolkit of administrative structures, implementation steps to build and execute this change, and detailed information on the practices of a distributive leadership model. Prior to implementing this strategy, we strongly recommend that key members of the learning community collaboratively identify the most critical issues facing the school community in order to focus the work of distributive leadership.

Implementation Steps

30 minutes

The steps below cover the work of several months and perhaps even most of a school year. These steps can be revised to meet rules and procedures present within the district. However, keep in mind that if the ultimate goal is a collaborative leadership structure, the transition to distributed leadership should also be collaborative. Recruiting a trusted colleague as a thought partner throughout this process could be a valuable additional starting step.

  1. Establish norms with the teaching community for meetings and interactions. To learn more about how to set norms, refer to the "Norms: The Secret Sauce of Effective Meetings" strategy.

  2. Craft an agenda for the initial meeting with staff about moving to a distributive leadership model. See the "Agendas: Organizing for Action" block below for the steps to create an effective agenda. 

  3. Collaboratively, with the faculty and educational staff, refine the purpose of the distributed leadership initiative to create a statement of belief and purpose. 

  4. After the draft has gone through a process of revision, disseminate the final draft along with the agenda for the next meeting, which will finalize the vision and mission of the distributed leadership model. 

  5. Inventory the skills, knowledge, interests, and passions of the teaching community. To learn more about how to complete this inventory, explore the Skills and Knowledge Inventory box below.

  6. Identify, engage, and empower key faculty members whose commitment and support will be needed for a leadership transition. Work with these stakeholders to begin identifying the key levers to achieve the goals of the distributed leadership.

    • Throughout the planning phases, keep the entire teaching community in the loop by sharing information about the ongoing work and reporting out regularly on what has been accomplished and what is happening next. 

  7. The leadership group and school administrator(s) should backwards plan to draft a plan for multi-year change, rooted in the school's shared vision and mission for distributed leadership.

  8. Bring the draft plan to the teaching community for creation of Task Groups or PLCs. The primary purpose is to determine actionable next steps and identify those who will participate in defining and acting on these steps.

    • Frontload the time needed to do this by naming the focus areas that will be tackled first (see Resources below for an example) so that teachers can determine their interest in advance.

    • If needed, reiterate that the plan was built collaboratively and that its implementation will also be done in this manner.

  9. Form the groups, which should begin their work by establishing norms and then backwards planning the actions needed to reach the group's objective. 

    • See the "Building a Professional Learning Community: It's About the Students" strategy in the BetterLesson Lab for more information on how to ensure PLCs are effective. 

Agendas: Organizing for Action

By following a few simple steps, crafting an agenda will become a call to action.

  1. Agenda planning is a week-long process, so plan backwards when setting meeting agendas.

  2. Determine why a meeting is needed. Once initiatives are underway, the closing next steps created by a good agenda create the purpose for the next meeting.

    • If there isn't a pressing reason for people to get together, don't have a meeting! This doesn't mean that creating a year-long schedule of regular meetings isn’t a good practice. It means that if a scheduled meeting time isn't needed in a given week, you should cancel the meeting.

  3. Articulate the goals of the meeting. By the end of the meeting, what will be accomplished?

  4. Identify any key stakeholders given the purpose of the meeting. Invite them to contribute to the agenda, and prepare them for any role they will play in the upcoming meeting by previewing their responsibilities.

  5. Write the agenda. Using a format such as the agenda in the resource section below will help keep the meeting brisk and purposeful. Ideally, use an electronic document such as a shared Google doc, and keep all agendas in one document, adding the newest meeting at the top. This creates an easy-to-locate record as well as a resource.

  6. Distribute the agenda as a draft to any key stakeholders identified in step 4 and request their feedback and suggestions before a given deadline. Make sure you leave a reasonable amount of time both for people to provide feedback and for you to implement their feedback (three days, excluding weekends, is a good amount).

  7. Utilize the feedback and suggestions to complete the final agenda.

  8. Distribute the agenda at least two days prior to the meeting. Within the body of the email message, briefly state the purpose and the time and day of the meeting. 

  9. During the meeting, use the agenda as an electronic document to take notes. Keep that document as a transparent record of the meeting that all can see. Use the agenda to note next steps and who is responsible.

Skills & Knowledge Inventory

An inventory of the school's staffing strengths and needs provides school leadership with information that can be used for staff-led initiatives and staff leadership assignments. Trust is a critical element when asking faculty to identify their strengths and areas of growth, so it is important to emphasize that the purpose of the inventory is to support student learning and identify opportunities for staff leadership. The inventory process can include aides and paraprofessionals, instructional or content coaches, and curriculum staff. Keep this inventory open for a stated period of time so that the community can continue to add to it.


Implementation steps:

  1. Decide how the skills inventory survey will be disseminated. 

  2. Create the survey. Keep it broad and go beyond what you think are critical skill areas. See the Knowledge and Interest Survey Example linked here for an idea of what to include. 

  3. Determine the length of time the survey will be open, how the survey will be distributed, how results and completion will be tracked, and who will see the survey results. 

  4. Communicate the purpose, means, timing, and audience of the survey to staff. Include a written version of this introduction when distributing the survey. 

  5. Send regular follow-up reminders to complete the survey.

  6. Gather and analyze the survey data.

  7. Use information from the inventory to create another survey to allow faculty to identify how they would like to contribute to school development. See the Applying our Knowledge and Interests Survey resource linked here for more information.

Questions to Consider

  1. What are the most significant obstacles to this initiative? Address these first.

  2. Routinely check on the clarity of your message by asking staff members for feedback. Do not rely solely on your inner circle. Make it a point to ask for feedback from colleagues with whom you do not frequently interact.

Coach Tips

Cheryl Belknap
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

If the school community has little or no collaborative structures in place:

  1. Begin with less demanding strategies such as these:

    • Building a Professional Learning Community: It's About the Students

    • Common Planning Time: It's About the Work

    • Looking at Student Work

    • Lesson Study, Critical Friends, and Learning Walks

  2. Be patient. It is better to move too slowly than to go too quickly.

  3. Be purposeful as well as reflective.

  4. Make one change at a time.

  5. Narrow each step toward change so that it is attainable. An easy way to determine this is to ask yourself how would you measure the success of that step. If it can't be measured, it is probably too large.

  6. Be honest. Tell the community what you are trying to do, and why. Ask for their help.

Tech Tools

Google Forms

  1. Google Forms are an easy way to gather and aggregate information. Response to a Google Form document can be aggregated, sorted, and saved in a Google Sheet. Surveys, in particular, demonstrate a desire to hear the voice of participants, and provide immediate information to those leading an initiative. This information can be used to tweak the process and shared back to the community in order to answer questions/concerns, and/or to demonstrate that the leaders in this work are listening.

Google Docs

  1. Google Docs are an easy way to disseminate information widely. They can also be set for group editing, and/or group comments/suggestions.

Google Calendar

  1. Google Calendar organizes the actions of a community. It may seem counter-intuitive as a planning/reminder device for a regular meeting, but when organizing groups in multiple tasks this tool becomes a must. Using it from the start to “invite” and place meeting times on individual calendars models the use multiple leadership groups will need later. Each calendar invite can also hold links such as the agenda or materials that participants will need in the course of meetings.


  1. Padlet can be used for two purposes. It is a quick way to gather information and thinking, and it supports the posting of images, videos, sound clips, links, and other information. It can be set so that others can respond by making comments. Padlet can also be used as a web-supported online chat, supporting working groups in asynchronous communications and supporting the entire community by providing another means to give feedback and answer each other's questions.


  1. Trello is a digital board used to organize, track, and communicate tasks. It can be used by an entire initiative, with threads representing parts of the process and/or used to aggregate, track, assign specific tasks within one larger task. The tool supports commenting, links, setting deadlines, assigning, adding information, and more.

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