Loose–Tight Leadership

Principals of professional learning communities understand that while

they must encourage individual and team autonomy, they must also

provide staff with guiding principles—criteria teachers can use in assessing

their ongoing decisions and actions. Teachers should not be encouraged

simply to go off and do whatever they want; rather, they should be

provided with clear guidelines and boundaries that direct their work on a

day-to-day basis. While principals of effective learning communities promote

autonomy, they are also vigilant, no-nonsense protectors of their

schools’ vision and values. They can be “loose” on the particular strategies

teachers use to advance vision and values, but they remain passionately

“tight” on the fact that vision and values must be adhered to. They

can be “loose” about what means are used to achieve an end, but they are

unshakably “tight” on the end itself.


Principals do not empower others by disempowering themselves. They

cannot send the message that everything is acceptable: They must stand

for something. They must lead, and this is a task that requires them to be

both ardent advocates of teacher autonomy and passionate promoters and

protectors of shared vision and values. Empowered teachers and strong

principals are not mutually exclusive. Schools that operate as learning

communities will have both.


—DuFour and Eaker, 1998, pp. 187–188