Lillie G. Jessie

Lillie G. Jessie, an author and a consultant, is the former award-winning principal of Elizabeth Vaughan Elementary School, a high minority, highly diverse, Title I school in Woodbridge, Virginia. She is currently the CEO of High Expectation Learning Institute.

Bottom-Up Leadership Put to the Test

At Elizabeth Vaughan Elementary School, the effectiveness of our bottom-up leadership depends on high-quality, top-down leadership direction and support. This past year, a series of unexpected challenges really put our bottom-up leadership to the test, and our teachers’ initiatives proved to be outstanding!

Medical absences at each grade level left us scrambling for subs, including one to replace one of my strongest veteran teachers. Resignations at two grade levels also put a pinch on school resources and staff sanity. In the meantime, school renovations and general lack-of-space issues forced us to combine a second-grade class and a third-grade class in the middle of the year.

This is when you find out if you have the interdependence Rick DuFour talks about so frequently. This is how our PLC used bottom-up leadership to pull through these challenges together:

  • Third grade--Staff initiated a plan to take the students of the person leaving into their classrooms and use the sub as a support person. The new teachers who eventually filled a more permanent role received extra support during a two-week transition time and enjoyed a supportive environment throughout the year.
  • Fourth grade--Staff created a different plan in which the sub taught science (nontested) and social studies, but the students floated to other classrooms for language arts and math (AYP content areas). All grade-level teachers and specialists worked with the students during testing.
  • Fifth grade--Staff developed a plan to take the leaving teacher’s students for a few weeks. Then, they diligently stuck with these larger class sizes while the new teacher adjusted.

All staff came to my weekly meeting with a problem and a solution. At no point did I ask them to do this. I did find it necessary to step in and temporarily reposition one teacher, but that is part of the top-down leadership that is so necessary for this collaborative culture to exist.

As a result of this bottom-up leadership and collaboration, we received our highest scores ever! Overall, we made 91 percent student achievement with 40 percent pass advanced. Third grade is above 90 percent in most areas with 100 percent improvement in pass advance in science. Fourth grade dropped a bit because of a last-minute emergency, but only to 91 percent with an increase in proficiency percentages. Fifth grade was off the hook with 95 percent in writing, 97 percent in reading, and 98 percent in math. These are just our preliminary scores. We are expecting even higher scores when the adjustments take place!

As principal of a school with more than 80 percent student diversity and Title I status, I can say without a doubt that bottom-up leadership within the culture of a PLC works.



At my school we help one another out as much as possible when it comes to covering each other's classes when need be. If one teacher needs to leave for an emergency or is running late we divide the class amongst two or three other classes. This helps to keep groups at a managable number. However, when it comes to correcting other teacher's classes in the hallway or other "public" area of the school everyone is afraid of stepping on someone's toes instead of just doing what is in the best interest of the child. I would like to see us working more closely to help one another and to help our kids. Our principal made a statement at our last faculty meeting that really hit home for me. "We need to begin to think of every child in our building as being our own student. Ultimately we are ALL responsible for the successes and failures of each student in our building." Now the question is, how do we get to that point?

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Bottom-up leadership and collaboration are needed at my school. Teachers are in the mode: Be sure you get a sub, because I don't want to take your kids. How do we begin to move from where we are to where we all believe we are responsible for all student learning?
Elizabeth Vaugh Elementary Kudos to you!!

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