The concept of leadership capacity has captured the imagination of educators around the world. Professionals from as far away as Tasmania, Zimbawe, Germany and England have responded to the central idea of my 1998 book Building Leadership Capacity in Schools: that sustainable development in schools is enhanced when we engage principals, teachers, parents, and students in broad-based, skillful participation in the work of leadership.
In the pursuit of high-stakes accountability, professional development has too often focused on student learning at the expense of teachers. Heresy, you say? Student-focused professional development is certainly necessary, but we need to pay attention to adult concerns as well. In airplanes we are told that in the case of an emergency, we should put on our own oxygen masks before helping children with theirs, because adults can't help children unless they are breathing properly themselves. The same principle applies to schools. We need to create an environment of discretion, autonomy, reciprocity, and professionalism before we can effectively teach those characteristics to students. And we need to join with other adults—parents and community members alike—in order to create a life of learning for all children.
Since the publication of Building Leadership Capacity in Schools, I have had the opportunity to work with thousands of principals, teachers, and district professionals. I have been uniformly impressed by the courage and commitment to school improvement exhibited by the educators with whom I spoke. The substance and uniformity of their comments sparked my interest in a second book on leadership capacity. I listened as the same kinds of questions surfaced repeatedly