International Confederation of Principals

Tyndall - School Community Parallel Leaders Make a Difference

Mr Tom Tyndall, Australia

This paper was published in May 2003.

Mr Tom Tyndall is Principal of Mabuiag Island State School, in the Torres Strait Islands District, Queensland, Australia. He can be contacted by email at:
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Dedicated to all personnel working in educational parallel leadership roles.




In 2001 our school community became a growing member of the IDEAS Project operating throughout Queensland. The IDEAS (Innovative Designs for Enhancing the Achievements of Schools) Project has highlighted the importance of Parallel Leadership. This notion has now been extended to the entire school community at Mabuiag Island State School.

Parallel leadership is defined by Crowther et al. as a leadership that ‘encourages a relatedness between teacher leaders and administrator leaders that activates and sustains the knowledge-generating capacity of schools: Parallel leadership is a process whereby teacher leaders and their principals engage in collective action to build school capacity’.

Extended to the School Community

The notion of taking Parallel Leadership beyond teachers and focusing on all stakeholders within the school community has been forged at Mabuiag Island State School through the IDEAS Project. This is being achieved through:

  • the sheer determination of Community Leaders to convey, in clear terms, the purpose of the IDEAS Project;

  • the students have added their dimensions to our school-wide pedagogies;

  • all staff have become involved with our transformation process through the IDEAS Project.

Parallel Leadership involves the acknowledgment of school community members (principal, teachers, teacher aides, office staff, support staff, students, parents, P&C and community members) as leaders. This notion, if enacted, releases principals to concentrate on the strategic foundations and infrastructural design of the school.

Let Go of the Reins

Once a principal has accepted the concept of Parallel Leadership, it is time to let go of the reins and trust your school community leaders. This does not mean just delegating roles and responsibilities or sharing the load. It means genuinely respecting your school community leaders to do their job and, in turn, they respect your strategic role within the school community.

Parallel Leadership is about sharing a common sense of purpose, i.e., agreeing about the direction of the school community. For too long many principals have been the ones who have taken on full responsibility for school ‘innovation’. What happens when they depart the school community? In comes another principal, with yet again a new focus. The school community become disinterested because it becomes a ‘Here we go again’ type of environment.

Individual school community members need to be provided with the opportunities to express their philosophies, ideas, aspirations and concerns in a valued environment. School community members who are provided with these opportunities feel empowered and dedicated towards change. They are being heard, involved and take action.

School Community Stakeholders as Leaders Framework

(adapted from Crowther, F., ‘Developing Teacher Leaders’)

1. School Community Leaders Convey Conviction About a Better World.

Students as leaders are obvious in a recent unit of work: ‘Australians at War’. The students planned, designed and facilitated the creation of a memorial site on the school grounds. The purpose of the site came out of the ‘Bali Bombing’ incident – the students wanted to create a place where people could remember lost loved ones.

The students conducted the 2003 ANZAC Ceremony at their new site and were ably supported by community leaders, including the President of the P&C (Parents and Citizens) and other parents. The boost in confidence levels in students was plain to see. One student memorized a ten-stanza poem and, despite her nerves, performed very well on the day. The entire notion of Peace was promoted during this unit – there can be a better world (see photograph of memorial site).

2. School Community Leaders Strive for Authenticity.

Enterprise Education emerged from our IDEAS Project discussions around providing ‘Real’ and ‘Engaged’ learning opportunities for our students. These are aspects of our school-wide pedagogies. The principal sought the school community’s involvement in a national trial on ‘Enterprise Education’ through Erebus Consulting. The teachers, teacher aides and students set up their own approach to ensure that enterprising skills were being targeted. The initial impact was that five businesses, along with business plans, marketing and sales were developed.

This year the students, through their teacher, are establishing an Italian restaurant, where the students will have the chance to try out their culinary and enterprising skills on staff. Being exposed to a variety of enterprising skills rewards the students.

3. School Community Leaders Facilitate Communities of Learning.

Our school community is directly involved in a Cultural Studies program that is planned and taught by elders, community teachers and students. Every Thursday afternoon students from Years 4 to 7 are engaged in either a local language program (KLY) or indigenous arts and crafts. This program is very popular, as it encourages the survival of culture within Mabuiag - and it is fun.

The cultural future for our students is sustainable and school community leaders are assisting with embedding this program. Importantly, the school- wide pedagogy of ‘Gud Pasin’ (Love, Respect and Sharing) is clearly obvious through such interactions and community involvement.

School Community Leaders come together regularly as learners. School Community Leaders join in on sports days, coffee shop mornings at the school and fun days. Night classes are held in the areas of Art and Computer Operations. These classes are to be extended into other interest areas in 2004.

4. School Community Leaders Confront Barriers.

Literacy and Numeracy are a challenge for students coming from an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) background. The School Community Leaders are aware that their children do not perform as well as mainstream children on systemic tests. This has been a historical situation. The barriers are being overcome through many different strategies.

Our School Community Leaders have openly supported and encouraged the facilitation of an ‘ARTernative Approach’ to education (refer to: ‘The Stroke of a Brush Leads to Many Paths’, in ‘ICP Online’). The leaders don’t put their head in the sand and expect that outcomes will improve themselves. Staff and students plan their work together and become totally involved with school community projects.

Recently, the students and staff, as leaders, realised that our rubbish bins needed a face-lift. Instead of just complaining about them, the class designed logos and patterns for the bins and, during their weekend, painted all school bins.

5. School Community Leaders Translate Ideas Into Action.

School Community Leaders are involved directly in determining, driving and evaluating initiatives. A Project Management focus is currently being introduced that will assist this entire approach. Each project is to be managed by focusing on:

  • scope of project;

  • time management;

  • cost management;

  • quality management;

  • human resource management;

  • procurement management;

  • communications management; and,

  • risk management.

The cultural notion of ‘No Muta Paipa’ (No hurry up - consult widely) is embedded within this Project Management Framework.

Direct Involvement

School Community Leaders are involved directly with planning the school Annual Operational Plan and budget, to ensure that their initiatives are embedded, funded and that targets are met.

6. School Community Leaders Nurture a Culture of Success.

The School Community Leaders share our successes with other schools in the cluster. This is achieved through ‘Gud Pasin’ (Sharing). Sharing occurs through direct contact, emails, a developed web site - - local media and by attending District and State workshops.

Our School Community Leaders are proud of the progress being made at Mabuiag. We also know that there are still challenges, such as getting more community involvement. However, for a small community, it is not a bad thing to see about 25 adults turn up regularly for school community and P&C meetings.


At Mabuiag Island State School, school community members are Parallel Leaders. They are also working in an environment that actively encourages parallelism. They conduct meetings based on shared agendas. They instigate ‘new’ approaches to educational reform, e.g., Enterprise Education; ICT Integration; ARTernative Programs and ‘Bring back the Cuisenaire Rods Program’. School Community Leaders drive these initiatives and the principal sources-out funding, engages university researchers in evaluations and smiles a great deal.

Parallel Leadership is definitely conducive to improved school outcomes. ‘The IDEAS Project has given the school community members the opportunity to have valued input into the future direction of the school.’ Parallel Leadership is emerging within the IDEAS Project schools as a natural feature of revitalisation.

In 1999 the IDEAS Project was trialed in fifty Queensland schools. Since then it has been implemented comprehensively in another eighty Queensland state schools in 2001. A further twenty-three commenced their journeys in 2002. Twelve schools from New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Western Australia have joined a national trial of the IDEAS project.


  • Andrews, D. & Crowther, F. (2002). ‘Parallel Leaders: A clue to the contents of the ‘Black Box’ of School Reform’ in International Journal of Educational Management, vol. 16, pp. 152-159.

  • Crowther, F., Kaagan, S., Ferguson, M., Hann L., (2002). Developing Teacher Leaders, Corwin Press Inc.

  • Tyndall, T. (2001). ‘The Stroke of a Brush Leads to Many Paths: An ARTternative Approach to Indigenous Education’, in ‘ICP Online’.


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