Shared Leadership: The Essential Ingredient for Effective PLCs


Terry Wilhelm

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
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  • Copyright


    “Terry Wilhelm provides a unique perspective on a critical aspect of the PLC process—shared leadership. As the PLC movement continues to proliferate, such guidance is both needed and timely.”

    Robert J. Marzano, CEO
    Marzano Research

    “Shared Leadership does an excellent job of providing principals with a step-by-step process for leading change in their schools. Professional Learning Communities are not something schools just have. They have to be developed and nurtured. Terry Wilhelm provides that process with many supportive resources and practices. There is also an excellent research base for the content presented in the book. The best part about this book is that principals have the ability to determine what steps they need to employ, depending on the readiness and development of the staff. There are lots of good suggestions and ideas for leading the entire process, but principals have the ability to take the suggested activities and adapt them to their current situation. This would be a good textbook for school administrator credential programs in preparing school leaders for taking on the change process at their schools.”

    Glenn Sewell, Assistant Professor of Educational Administration
    Sanford College of Education, National University

    “The concept of shared leadership is essential to increase student learning, yet the most elusive for school leaders to fully grasp and practice. In Shared Leadership, Terry Wilhelm provides a proven road map for school leaders. This is a must read for anyone who seeks a high quality PLC.”

    Maureen E. Latham, Superintendent
    Beaumont Unified School District

    “In my years as a principal and leadership consultant I have always been on the lookout for practical and useful resources that can help school leaders in real time. Terry Wilhelm has provided such a resource. This book is filled with practical guidance and useful tools that can have an immediate impact on a school’s culture and ability to meet students’ needs. I highly recommend this book!”

    Greg Cameron, Learning Crest Partner and Author

    “The book’s major strength is the credibility of the elegant research from the author’s own experiences and well as an extensive discussion of research from the literature. This book would be an excellent resource for the Superintendent of any K–12 school district to use as professional development for district administrators. Of course, the book is a “must” for school principals who are striving to develop school leadership skills among the significant adults in their schools.”

    Adeline Civretta, Retired Facilitator
    California School Leadership Academy, Riverside County, CA

    “This is the most comprehensive collection of current research and effective practices for successful, sustainable, school change available. It includes solid, practical guidance on the essential tools and processes needed to take our team’s efforts to the next level, and will undoubtedly become our manual for continuous improvement, districtwide.”

    Anne M. Lundquist, Superintendent
    Red Lake School District #38, Minnesota

    “I realized many years ago that school leaders cannot accomplish “everything” they need to without help. That help comes in many forms and various avenues. Sharing leadership through professional learning communities empowers leaders from within the organization to step forward and assume both formal and informal leadership positions with the organization. In this book, you will see how shared leadership can improve your school.”

    Dr. B.J. Worthington, Director of Schools
    Clarksville-Montgomery County School System

    “Terry Wilhelm’s insight—rooted in extensive practice, inquiry, and research—brings 21st century educational leadership into realistic focus, while demonstrating the unique and essential qualities of collaboration. The author provides a vision of and practical tools to assist in the implementation of a principle-based, shared leadership model that creates conditions resulting in high student achievement.”

    Gregory Kampf, Superintendent, (Retired)
    Lompoc Unified SD

    “Every principal and every administrator who supervises principals with the goal of improving student outcomes through shared leadership and PLCs in their schools should read this book. It is packed with practical how-tos based on the author’s real-time experience working with school teams for over 15 years. There’s so much here…Terry has thought of just about everything to help principals and teachers grow professionally and to transform their schools for the benefit of their students.”

    Dr. Kathy Wright, Superintendent (Retired)
    Alvord USD

    “We’ve long known that culture is the “secret sauce” of school improvement—with it, anything is possible; without it, nothing is possible. Yet getting from a dysfunctional school culture to a high-performing one is no small feat. Terry Wilhelm’s book is full of practical tools and guidance for doing exactly that and reflects solid research from McREL and others about effective school leadership. This book is a must for leadership teams grappling with what is often the most difficult aspect of school improvement—creating a purposeful community that’s committed to continuous improvement.”

    Bryan Goodwin, President & CEO
    McREL International


    For Holly and Toby.

    List Of Resources On The Companion Website

    Forms and Tools

    Chapter 1

    Confidential Principal Tool for Selection of Guiding Coalition

    Chapter 2

    Principal Self-Assessment for Shared Leadership Readiness

    Chapter 4


    Role Tent Cards

    Parking Lot

    The Talking Stick

    What Is a Professional Learning Community (PLC)?

    Questions of a PLC

    School-Wide Roles

    Our Team Compact (Sample)

    Five Steps to Effective Norms

    Professional Work Plan and Team Commitments

    Tool Kit

    Chapter 6


    After Action Review

    Collaboration Survey for Course-Alike Teams

    Collaboration Survey for Vertical Teams or Teams of Specialists

    Chapter 7


    Writing or Evaluating a Mission Statement

    Headlines-Our Vision

    Collective Commitments

    Chapter 9

    What Is a Protocol?

    Protocols Are the Bridge

    Why Protocols?

    Does My Team Need Protocols?

    Use Protocols If

    Venn Diagram Comparing Student Work Protocol and Student-Based Protocol

    Chapter 10


    Student Work Protocol With Facilitator’s Notes

    Chapter 11


    Student-Based Protocol with Facilitator’s Notes

    Chapter 12


    Student Work Protocol With Facilitator’s Notes

    Chart Headers

    Planning/Problem Solving Protocol With Facilitator’s Notes

    Chapter 13


    Notes Page-SMARTe

    Are These SMARTe Goals?

    SMARTe Goal Worksheet

    Write a SMARTe Goal for These Teams

    Chapter 14

    Pyramid-Response to Intervention

    Chapter 15


    Students by Nee

    Alternate Ranking

    Chapter 16


    Pyramid of Interventions for Professional Behavior

    STATE Steps From Crucial Conversations

    Eliminate Email for Problem Solving

    Chapter 17


    Leading as Optimizers and Affirmers

    Explanatory Style

    Paradigms/Mental Models

    Stories of Inspiration-Note Taking Guide


    Resource Articles and Videos

    p. xix (Website) Want Proof That the PLC Process Is Working for Others and Can Work for You Too?

    p. 89 (pdf) The Balanced Leadership Framework: Connecting Vision With Action (2007) by Tim Waters and Greg Cameron

    p. 109 (Video) Tuning Protocol: Fine Tuning Our Classroom Practice With Presenting Teacher Donn Cushing

    p. 109 (Video) Tuning Protocol: Fine Tuning Our Classroom Practice With Presenting Teacher Gareth Richards

    p. 119 (Video) Student-Based Protocol

    p. 119 (Video) Elementary Math Data Protocol

    p. 146 (Article) Stealthy Interventions (2015) by Terry Wilhelm

    p. 162 (Article) We’re Already a “Good” School - Why Do We Have to Improve? (2007) by Richard DuFour

    p. 164 (Article) Teachers vs. Administrators: Ending the Adversarial Relationship (2013) by Terry Wilhelm

    For Further Reading

    Sharing Leadership in PD Best Practices (2015) by Terry Wilhelm

    Making a Difference, One Child at a Time (2009) by Terry Wilhelm

    Professional Reading Protocols in a PD Setting - Six-part series

    • Part I: Full vs. Abbreviated Jigsaw

    • Part II: Reading Cascade

    • Part III: “Final Word” Discussion Protocol

    • Part IV: “Chunked and Timed” Protocol

    • Part V: Partner Reading

    • Part VI: Use of Margin Notes and Varying Levels of Sharing Out

    Facilitation Notes

    (Chapter 4) Getting Started

    (Chapter 6) More Best Practice Meeting Routines, Essential Learnings and Common Assessments

    (Chapter 7) Mission, Vision, Collective Commitments

    (Chapter 10) Student Work Protocol

    (Chapter 11) Student-Based Protocol

    (Chapter 12) Planning-Problem Solving Protocol

    (Chapter 13) Goal Setting and SMARTe Goals

    (Chapter 15) Student Interventions

    (Chapter 16) Working With Challenging Individuals

    (Chapter 17) Leading as Optimizers and Affirmers for Collective Efficacy

    Preface: Why This Book?

    The market is brimming with books on the topic of professional learning communities (PLCs). However, in my work with school teams, I have found none that address the topic of shared leadership in a PLC. While I was writing this book, a friend who is a retired middle school teacher remarked, “We tried PLCs at our school, and they didn’t work.” Her comment—incidentally, illustrating a common misconception about what a professional learning community is—echoes many I have heard.

    I see many schools begin the PLC journey with great enthusiasm. Why does it sometimes fade so quickly, with the school reverting to its traditional patterns? In my observation, there are two reasons. First, shared decision making has not developed beyond a surface level, mostly involving administrivia, which is a waste of teachers’ time and expertise, with no impact on student learning. Second, the principal typically has not provided the teacher leaders with the tools needed to lead teams of colleagues, which requires an investment of regularly scheduled time, just as the collaborative teacher teams must have regularly scheduled time for working together in new ways.

    The purpose of this book is to serve as a guide for principals. In 2012, ASCD solicited an article from me, published in Educational Leadership, October 2013—an issue devoted to teacher leadership. During the peer review process for “How Principals Cultivate Shared Leadership,” the reviewers pressed for a sequence of professional learning that principals should provide for teacher leaders. I satisfied their request with a seven-step sequence that appeared in an inset box, but I was not satisfied. The steps made the process appear overly simplistic and somewhat lockstep. This book is the result of developing and elaborating that flexible sequence into a guide. It focuses on developing shared leadership in the areas of curriculum, instruction, and assessment (CIA) through developing teacher leaders’ expertise in leading teams of peers and through the functioning of this team of teacher leaders as both an advisory and a decision-making body. Time should only be spent on operational concerns where they impact CIA, in which case teacher leaders’ input and/or shared leadership action with the principal is called for.

    Principals Need a Resource

    In 1991, Richard DuFour wrote, “Too often, principals have looked upon staff development as a secondary consideration, an aspect of the operation of the school which warranted little, if any, of their time and attention.” The book was The Principal as Staff Developer, which connected professional development of teachers—by the principal—to the gold standard in educational leadership strategies of the day: clinical supervision. More than two decades later, clinical supervision remains a respected practice, and formal observation remains a required feature of teacher evaluation, mandated in contracts across the country. But more current research, such as that of Carroll, Fulton, and Doerr (2010), Hattie (2009, 2015), and Hord, Lloyd, Roussin, and Sommers (2010), compels us to work from a new paradigm that is both more effective and more efficient: professional learning communities. But in many schools—in the absence of a district’s or area service agency’s professional development program—the responsibility for developing teachers as leaders to create a PLC still falls to none other than the principal.

    New books are emerging on teacher leadership, as are teacher leadership certification programs—both very positive developments. However, these assume that amid the myriad expectations and responsibilities placed on today’s principals, they have also managed to somewhere acquire the know-how for developing teachers as leaders within a cohesive culture of community, then for sharing leadership with them appropriately. At the very least, they assume that principals will allow teacher leadership to develop and will allocate meaningful roles to teacher leaders beyond the traditions of department chair, grade level chair, or academic coach/mentor. Realistically, an effective teacher leadership certification program needs a parallel track for the principals, with many intersecting sessions to ensure the development of a cohesive, shared leadership model. Principals must lead the work of improving their schools; teacher leadership cannot be developed in a vacuum and have a meaningful school-wide impact. The ideal program is to develop shared leadership together in a team model, with principal and teacher leaders attending the sessions together.

    To be certain, many books for developing a school as a professional learning community are available. In 2015, Richard DuFour’s book In Praise of American Educators and How They Can Become Even Better synthesized the essential elements of all his previous works, refuting the negative media image of U.S. schools while acknowledging the significant challenges they face, with a review of PLC processes as the path to an improved future, but emphasizing the importance of high fidelity to those processes. In the final chapter, DuFour touches on shared leadership, discussing “dispersing leadership,” especially among team leaders.

    The body of research on shared leadership in education is growing. However, in the absence of a comprehensive shared leadership development program for school teams, I have found no guidebook for principals with the how-tos for fostering shared leadership in a school setting, despite the fact that “principal as staff developer” remains an inescapable role for principals who understand the need for their schools to begin operating as PLCs, with teachers assuming a substantially different role in leadership outside their own classrooms. The concept of learning organizations originated in business. For business leaders, this is not a new concept, and a body of literature on shared leadership does exist for them.

    How to Use This Book

    This book is devoted to outlining and describing, in a flexible sequence, specific practices and processes a principal can use to develop shared leadership in a PLC. It begins with selecting the right team, then proceeds to team agendas designed to develop the teacher leaders’ expertise in just-in-time fashion for leading teams of colleagues. The sequence is what I typically use with school teams, but the meetings purposefully are not numbered. You may wish to re-sequence them or add your own agendas. Foundational elements of a PLC are addressed in the outlined guiding coalition (GC) meetings—norms and other teamwork tools; essential learnings and common assessments; mission, vision, commitments, goals; and student interventions. Depending on your school, you may wish to set aside some of the other agendas for now. For example, the chapters on discussion protocols represent a powerful set of tools that accelerate effective collaboration more rapidly than almost any single strategy. But as you work with your teacher leaders in shared leadership, you may decide as a GC that at the present time resistance would outweigh the benefits of introducing them. Or conversely, that most teams are far beyond needing them. Choose what you will use based on your own and your teacher leaders’ judgment.

    Reproducible tools and agenda notes are provided for each GC meeting. The online resources contain more detailed facilitation notes for principals who would like more structured support with planning and facilitating. Many of these resources can be found as editable Word documents on the book companion website Chapters outlining GC meetings conclude with principal follow-up suggestions, and many include troubleshooting tips. Troubleshooting often rests on principals developing and refining their abilities to balance their leadership, whether to be “loose” or “tight” in the nomenclature of the DuFours and their colleagues (2010), or to “step up” versus “step back” in the work of Waters and Cameron (2007). Site administrators face these dilemmas frequently in the development of shared leadership. I believe this is part of the reason that developing shared leadership is, in a sense, more complex, and in its early stages, sometimes even more labor intensive than being the Lone Ranger principal. Yet principals today can no longer lead in ways that accomplish outcomes of significance for all students if they are acting in that outdated role.

    Additional Resources

    On the companion website for Shared Leadership: The Essential Ingredient for Effective PLCs, you will find many resources. These include downloadable versions of the forms and tools in this book (Forms and Tools), links to related articles referred to in the chapters (Resource Articles and Videos), and highly detailed facilitation notes to augment the Agenda Notes in the chapters containing meeting agendas (Facilitation Notes). The book’s References and Resources are also included so that you may access web links.


    My deepest thanks to Adeline Civretta, Judy Cunningham, Debbie Fay, and Lisa Marin for their enthusiastic support. I greatly appreciate the hours they spent reading my drafts and providing feedback. They are not only professional colleagues, but also personal friends and have been “critical friends” to me in the truest sense throughout this endeavor. Finally, I am enduringly grateful to Rick and Becky DuFour for their encouragement and support since the very inception of this project.

    Publisher’s Acknowledgments

    Corwin gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following reviewers:

    Lydia Adegbola

    Assistant Principal

    New York City Department of Education

    New York, NY

    David G. Daniels


    Susquehanna Valley Senior High School

    Conklin, NY

    Julie Duford

    5th Grade Teacher and PLC Team Leader

    Polson Middle School

    Polson, MT

    Katina Keener


    Achilles Elementary School

    Hayes, VA

    Nancy J. Larsen

    Teacher; Adjunct Faculty

    University of Idaho; Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy

    Coeur d’Alene, ID

    Tanna Nicely


    South Knoxville Elementary

    Blaine, TN

    Alan Penrose

    Assistant Principal; Adjunct Professor of Education

    North Kansas City School District; Rockhurst University

    Kansas City, MO

    Ronald W. Poplau

    High School Instructor

    Shawnee Mission Northwest High School

    Kansas City, KS

    About the Author

    Terry Wilhelm, MA, has served as a teacher, principal, district office and area service agency administrator, and university adjunct professor in educational leadership. Her work with principals and school leadership teams spans over 15 years and is the basis for this book. K–12 urban, rural, and suburban schools of all sizes are represented in her work with teams. During her service at the Riverside County Office of Education in Riverside, California, she was Administrator, then Director of the Riverside County School Leadership Center of the California School Leadership Academy (CSLA). When she was appointed Director, Educational Leadership Services, she continued the former CSLA School Leadership Teams (SLT) program, reengineered to support schools working to become professional learning communities. Between 2003 and 2012, 56 schools from 10 districts that participated in SLT met the criteria for inclusion on An external evaluator determined that achievement at these schools exceeded that of similar non-program schools in the county and state, and that they sustained their improvement trajectories after participating in the 2-year program for the duration of the study. Wilhelm has authored many articles on school improvement and is a regular contributor to Leadership, the journal of the Association of California School Administrators. Her weekly column, Leaders’ Link, written from 2013 to 2016 for HotChalk, Inc. can accessed at She is a national consultant as well as the founder and owner of


    The Need

    We face the urgent and compelling need for a polar shift in school leadership: from the principal as lone leader, to a model of shared leadership between the principal and teacher leaders. The age of the global marketplace, with its demands for graduates who are competitively college and career ready, has overlapped—although not eclipsed—the age of accountability where a schools’ worth is measured by test scores. The advent of the Common Core State Standards, or other, newly revised standards in some states, has brought both increased potential to meet the new demands and the heightened challenge of implementing yet another large-scale initiative. The principal can no longer lead this work alone. Researchers led by Timothy Waters at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning (2009a) stated, “The future demands on the school principal are massive. In order to meet the needs of all stakeholders, the principal needs to learn to share leadership responsibilities while understanding the implications of introducing change.”

    Some schools have made, or are making, the shift to shared leadership already. This is evidenced by the fact that, by a variety of measures, including but not limited to test scores, they have become increasingly effective in ensuring that all students, regardless of home background, leave the system fully prepared for college and the global 21st century workforce. They have become constantly improving learning organizations, led by a principal who is a “learning leader.” The concept of professional learning communities (PLCs) has become widely used and embraced, thanks to the seminal work of leaders such as Richard and Rebecca DuFour, who have educated thousands in the concept and processes.

    The PLC structure has become well documented as a vehicle for improving schools, compellingly evidenced in the meta-analytical research of John Hattie (2009). But Richard DuFour stated to Phi Delta Kappan editor Joan Richardson (2011), “Research is not a good driver (of change in school); practice is. My belief is that you should immerse yourself in practice first and then plug yourself into research second.” The purpose of this book is to serve as a practitioner’s guide for principals who are ready to transition to shared leadership.

    Accordingly, those who want to know more about the practice can go to and click on “See the Evidence” for an ever-growing cohort of schools—currently over 200—from the United States and Canada that have been practicing those processes.

    PLC processes have come to be recognized as cutting-edge educational reform. When a principal takes a group of teachers to a PLC conference, they are likely to leave with something approaching evangelical fire to transform their school. The road is actually not that complicated. It is not an exotic departure from what we know as schooling. In many respects, it is actually fairly simple. But like many simple things, it can be unexpectedly hard to do. Once the team returns to campus, the sheer daily demands of teaching for the teachers, and running the school for the administrators, may overwhelm their initial enthusiasm and best intentions.

    Becoming a PLC requires some structural shifts in the use of resources—time, money, and people. However, more significant are the cultural shifts necessary to enable the structural shifts to occur. The most successful leaders and schools address both structure and culture simultaneously.

    From Traditional Schooling to a PLC

    In the culture of traditional schooling, the principal, sometimes with an administrative team, runs the show. He or she directs the production, and teachers play their assigned instructional roles in their autonomous, individual classrooms. A foundational structure for schools that are becoming PLCs is the formation of teacher-led teams of teachers who accomplish specific kinds of work interdependently—all in support of the overall school mission, vision, and goals—but typically with no administrator present. This may be a new structure for some schools, where department meetings or traditional grade-level meetings have been the norm since the dawn of living memory.

    Unfortunately, teacher preparation programs historically have offered nothing to prepare teachers to lead teams of peers in these new kinds of group tasks: analyzing student work and achievement data, facilitating discussions about improved instructional practices to produce better learning, comparing results for various tried strategies, putting structures in place to hold each other accountable for trying and using the strategies, and the development of classroom and team level student interventions for the short and longer terms.

    Expecting teachers to know how to collaborate in this high-level fashion reminds me of myself as a young teacher expecting my students to know how to work in cooperative groups. They didn’t! Each table group task quickly deteriorated into arguing, sulking, and one or two students doing all the work. After trying this a few times, I just gave up and put the desks back into rows. It took some honest self-examination to stop blaming them for being so uncooperative and accept the fact that they needed instruction and practice in the skills of cooperative learning from me—just as they did for academics! Also, I liked being in charge—after all, I was the teacher, right?

    In time, I got better—and so did they! I introduced cooperative skills and they practiced them while they worked on math, language arts, and other subjects. Key to our success was my ability to see my own role differently. The parallel I am attempting to draw is that principals may likewise have trouble relinquishing control and may also need to develop a whole new skill set to develop their teachers as leaders.

    I have also observed the opposite extreme—misguided principals abdicating important aspects of leadership, leaving to their wholly unprepared leadership teams vital school-wide decisions and responsibilities.

    Shared Leadership Is Not Delegation

    Shared leadership involves sharing some decision-making and other responsibilities, but it is not abdication, and it is quite different than simple delegation. Assuredly, there are certain routine tasks and responsibilities that a principal can and should delegate to experienced staff members, including classified staff. But developing the depth of shared leadership necessary for transforming a school into a PLC so that all students can achieve at the highest levels is very different. It is not an event or an action, like delegating a task to someone. It is a developmental process. It does not happen overnight or in a few months. Deliberately planned, developmentally shared leadership will be more effective after 2 years than after 1 and will continue to blossom and grow—along with student outcomes—the longer it is thoughtfully and intentionally fostered.

    Principals who have taken this journey describe it as a rewarding adventure; seeing their teachers develop as leaders is intensely satisfying. Shared leadership is transformative for teachers, but its ultimate beneficiaries are the students. Today’s school leaders have a moral imperative to lead differently and more effectively, and shared leadership is the vehicle.

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