By John Wink

We leaders all want the same thing: All students to learn at high levels, our campuses to be safe places for students and staff, and our academic performance to be the best it has ever been.

Those goals by themselves are challenging, but when we consider all of the other responsibilities, mandates, laws, and initiatives that fall under the responsibility of campus leadership, the challenge becomes seemingly impossible. If we synthesize everything that falls under the role of principal and supervisor, it’s easy to understand how leadership and the role of the campus leader or supervisor has never been more demanding than it is today.

Rick DuFour said it best when he said, “No teacher possesses all the time, knowledge, and expertise to meet the needs of every student.”

If we apply this quote to campus leadership, it wouldn’t take long for all of us to agree no leader possesses all the time, knowledge and expertise to meet the needs of all students, all staff members, and all parents. We know that leadership matters a lot in order to meet the needs of all, so what must leadership look like in order to accomplish all these goals and objectives?

Finding the answer requires us to gain clarity on the concept of instructional leadership with a mindset of shared leadership and collaboration. To develop the very best definition, we must approach leadership with the mindset that the people who work and learn within the school must collectively function as a “ship of leaders” as opposed to a few leaders with a lot of followers.

Ship of Leaders
In 2017, I wrote the book, A Leader’s Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom. This book focused on how great leaders grow all teachers by creating an Excellence Support System that differentiated professional learning, collaboration and leadership for individuals in such a manner that matched the needs of teachers based on their proficiency and progress in the Hierarchy of Instructional Excellence.

In short, this book made the argument that if we believe RtI (Response to Intervention) is a great thing to have in place for all students, then it only makes sense principals, assistant principals, and instructional coaches support all teachers by building a system of supports (RtI system for teachers) to address or in some cases remediate each teacher’s current deficiencies in the Hierarchy of Instructional Excellence.

To date many schools across the nation are rapidly increasing student achievement simply because the leaders have redirected their focus and support to building teacher efficacy in each classroom. If every student counts, then every teacher must count as well.

To accelerate both leader and teacher excellence, I have written a follow up book to the Leader’s Guide called, A Teacher’s Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom, which will release this November. The premise of this book is that principals and assistant principals can’t improve schools alone. It takes leaders at all levels, and if school leaders aspire for excellence in all facets of the school, they will have to develop teacher leadership to lead with them.

After all, teachers need support and leadership when the campus leader is unavailable or to be honest, lacks the knowledge or expertise to help teachers and students with their challenges. If this is to occur, then we must ask ourselves the following question. If the principal is unable to lead, who will be there to lead in their place?

The answer to this question is a simple one, teachers. Campus leaders must develop their leadership by building a ship of leaders who lead with and at times in the absence of the campus leader, and it only makes sense to empower teachers to lead alongside campus leaders.

The greatest teachers are leaders because they are practitioners. They work with today’s kids, and they are constantly experimenting and improving their performance with the latest techniques that impact student achievement; therefore, it only makes sense they positively impact all students beyond the confines of the four walls in which they spend most of the day. Great schools empower teachers to lead other teachers.

The Student Excellence Support System

  1. Teacher Team Collaboration
  2. Class-wide Supports
  3. Individualized Student Supports


In A Teacher’s Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom, I provide a new Excellence Support System that is designed specifically to meet the needs of all students. This three-step support system begins with Step 1: Teacher Team Collaboration where teacher leaders and instructional coaches work with their teacher teams to develop high, tight, and consistent expectations for teaching and learning in every classroom through the seven levels of the Hierarchy of Student Excellence.

The Hierarchy of Student Excellence

From there teachers and instructional coaches can lead teachers to develop the second step of the Student Excellence Support System, Class-wide Supports. These supports allows teachers to personalize the teacher team supports in such a manner that fits both the teacher’s style of delivery and the students’ learning needs for instruction.

The final step in the Excellence Support System for Students embodies the essence of RtI, Individualized Student Supports. In this step, teachers develop a targeted plan to respond to a student who is struggling in a particular level in the Hierarchy of Student Excellence by isolating the biggest barrier that prevents learning and then developing a prescriptive plan of action to respond to and remediate the area of deficiency.

The key to the Teacher’s Guide to Excellence in Every Classroom is the following. If we believe in helping all students learn at high levels, we must believe it is everyone’s job to help all teachers learn the knowledge and skills to support those students.

Whether a teacher is in their first or 21st year of teaching, they have a moral obligation to help all kids by leading all teachers in their area of expertise. That means principals and assistant principals have a moral obligation to identify leaders in all areas of the campus and develop their leadership skills in supporting and serving all teachers.

When teachers become leaders, they become teachers of teaching, and when teachers become teachers of teaching for their campus, they commit to developing other teachers that they work with. Furthermore, excellence in every classroom is within their grasp solely because teaching excellence has been transformed from the goal into a guaranteed nonnegotiable.

Does your campus have leadership or does it function as a ship of leaders? The answer to that question just may be the secret ingredient you need to transform your great school into an excellent school for all kids and ultimately all teachers.

John Wink, Carthage ISD superintendent, is an author and presenter on #Leadership, #LeadExcel, #TeachExcel and #LoveMySchoolDay.

TEPSA News, November/December 2019, Vol 76, No 6

Copyright © 2019 by the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association. No part of articles in TEPSA publications or on the website may be reproduced in any medium without the permission of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association.

The Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA), whose hallmark is educational leaders learning with and from each other, has served Texas PK-8 school leaders since 1917. Member owned and member governed, TEPSA has more than 5,900 members who direct the activities of 3 million PK-8 school children. TEPSA is an affiliate of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

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