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Aurora Institute

Distributed Leadership at Kettle Moraine

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Chris Sturgis

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Learn Lessons from the Field

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the ninth in a ten-part series on Kettle Moraine. Please read the first post on Kettle Moraine before continuing to read this post, as it will prepare you to fully take advantage of the ideas and resources shared in this series.

Everyone is a learner at Kettle Moraine. And with the distributed leadership model, everyone can be a leader. Currently, 10 percent of the educators are recognized as leaders of teacher teams. There are several ways that KM is developing leadership. (You can listen directly to Superintendent Pat DeKlotz, Assist Superintendent Theresa Ewald, and teacher leaders talk about distributed leadership on the second video in the left hand column.)

Tools for Distributing Leadership

DeKlotz described a number of techniques that she and Ewald used to engage educators, to help build a shared understanding of the strategic vision for the district, and, listen for coaching opportunities when there were misconceptions or narrow understanding of what personalized learning means. These tools or techniques included:  

  • Rounding: Drawing from the hospital practice of rounds, the administrative team would visit schools and engage in conversation with the cook, new teachers, teacher leaders, principals, and students. DeKlotz emphasized, “I want the communication. I want to know people’s names and what they are thinking about. There are so many things to celebrate in a school, and by being in the school, we can recognize and lift up small and large achievements. Rounding is critical to our building and nurturing the culture that relationships matter.”  
  • Practice critical conversations: Conversations matter, as well. There are many crucial conversations during any transition process or learning process. The district team took time to model and engage principals and teacher leaders in how to have conversations with teachers who were having difficulties of one kind or another; conversations about beliefs, skills, and actions; and conversations about when expectations weren’t being met. This capacity has helped to create the learning culture. Everyone knows there will be mistakes, that expectations need to be discussed so they are shared, and that feedback is valued.  
  • Focus on high performers: Teachers matter. DeKlotz knew that high performers were driving the change to personalized learning. So DeKlotz worked closely with principals about how they thought about recruiting and nurturing high performers. Questions such as How are you re-recruiting your high performers? How do you know your high performers are satisfied with their jobs? guided the conversations.
  • Invest in principals:  DeKlotz and/or Ewald meet with principals individually every other week. This creates opportunity for dialogue, reflection, and problem-solving. It also gives them another way to discover trends or emerging problems early.
  • Power of modeling: DeKlotz and Ewald are very intentional about their modeling. They both have an open way of engaging and talking. But don’t be fooled, they are constantly seeking out opportunities to engage in conversation and reflection that deepen the understanding and skills to implement personalized learning.       

Building Career Pathways

Kettle Moraine district team is beginning to re-think career pathways for teachers. They want to give people a chance to influence the direction of their organization. When educators own their work, they are going to put more effort in and care about the quality of the entire school. The district also wanted to create a pipeline of talent. Their approach for personalized learning depends on very small schools, some would call them micro-schools. Thus, they are going to need more teacher leaders to take over the director position and and the other distributed management roles of operating a school.

Another need for career pathways is that they want to retain the great staff who are driving the changes. Laura Dahm, Diirector of KM Explore, explained, “The broken-down, antiquated model of either being a teacher or a principal doesn’t work. There are lots of teachers who want to stay in classroom. They just want other ways to demonstrate leadership.”

In the micro-schools, new positions or ways of organizing staff are being developed. One is directors of learning. They continue to teach, and their classrooms become model classrooms. The rest of their time is spent coaching. Lead educators may take on other responsibilities such as organizing the common planning time, organizing PD or managing schedules, and logistics. If they have specialized expertise such as in the sciences or special education, teachers may become coaches when specific help is needed by other teachers.

Directors of the Personalized Learning School

Teacher leaders have taken on the role of director of the four charter schools, chartered by the district, to create innovative schools that use personalized learning (personalized learning in Wisconsin includes proficiency-based progress). To launch the four personalized learning schools, KM created a pilot process. Teacher leaders who were interested stepped into role of leader of the new charter schools. Instead of creating an administrative layer (which wouldn’t make sense, as the schools are only about 100 students), teachers took on other roles such as supervision.

Emerging Leadership

KM values their own workforce, as experts and leadership are able to emerge through professional learning. As teachers develop micro-credentials and create artifacts (such as videos explaining an instructional strategy and demonstrating it in the classroom or with student work), they can share these resources with other teachers.

Another example is that four teachers took on the leadership to develop an “unconference approach” to professional learning based on education camps. Developed with three other districts that emphasize personalized learning, ReCharge Ed uses the collaborative unconference approach in which the experts are the people who show up to a session to share their ideas in a way that is valuable to the participants. This provides teachers with voice while also building environments in which ideas can be enhanced, challenged, and expanded upon with their peers. (See video on the unconference approach in the first video in right-hand column.)

The small size of KM and the small size of the personalized learning schools means that it is easier for educators to collaborate, take leadership for bite-sized pieces of operations, and problem-solve in a daily process. Essentially, relationships and frequent communication can replace top-down bureaucratic processes. However, there are still challenges in distributing leadership to make sure everyone is working in the same direction with intention and a commitment to alignment. As leadership is distributed, it is easy for personal passions or concerns to dominate an activity. In many districts, establishing guiding principles to create a shared set of criteria to use in decision-making can help.

In the next article, the Quality Design Principles will be used to highlight and reflect upon  Kettle Moraine School District’s approach to personalized learning.

Suggested Resources

Read the Entire Series: