Leading the work within a school is a significant opportunity and responsibility. You impact the lives of students and determine the trajectory of their future. This significance helps one to recognize the importance of collaborative leadership. Leaders must continually grow with their own skill sets, but to maximize their impact, leaders understand developing others through a culture of collaborative leadership has much greater return. Through my experiences of leading others, here are key components to creating a culture of collaborative leadership and practical examples in our school.
Create a Culture of Trust to Set the Vision
All work starts with people and ends with people. It really is that simple. To create a comprehensive vision, leaders must develop trusting relationships. Leaders create trust over time through character (how we interact with others) and through competence (how well we do our jobs). Specifically, we must find ways to have consistent human interactions with our school community. For example, our administrative team creates “motivational Monday videos” that are one- to two-minute video reflections that we share weekly with our students and families. We reflect upon our lives, share character reflections, and model vulnerability and authenticity. We have found that the videos help build positive relationships, and by modeling the behaviors we want from others through our words, actions, and attitudes we can make significant difference.
Focus on Equity for All
Collaborative leadership at the heart means “collectively working together to get desired results.” For schools, the collective means ALL staff, ALL students, and ALL families have opportunities to be heard and share ideas. We have found the following ways most successful to support this work:
- Have feedback mechanisms on consistent basis.
Listening to those we serve is a priority for us. For our students, our administrative team meets frequently through “feedback loops” where we have three to four questions and listen to our students. We then share the themes back with our staff to help plan our next steps. For our staff, we strive to provide several points of feedback throughout the year either through one-on-one listening sessions, Google forms, or simply stopping by their rooms to chat. For our parents/guardians, we use quarterly “coffee with principals” where anyone can come and share ideas, concerns, and be part of our work. Currently, we are getting ready to launch a book study where staff and families together will read and discuss strategies and skills middle school students need to thrive.
- Set a vision for your school and reflect upon the work frequently.
Schools must constantly adapt to changing times to keep the vision of the school at the center of the work. An important part of the work is effective communication. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in even greater feedback from our school community to best meet students’ needs. During COVID-19, our communication has been streamlined to keep things simple, straightforward, and use multimodal means of communication to reach all audiences.
Build Capacity in Others to Lead
As we lead the work of our school community, we have focused on the importance of “growth.” Building the capacity of our people through a culture of collaboration and providing opportunities for them to be empowered is the most important work I can lead for our school.
For our teachers, we strive to have our professional learning designed and led by teachers as much as possible. We incorporate a genius hour where staff have choice upon their learning. We also have shifted toward each staff member having a personal growth plan where they describe the areas where they want to grow, strategies they will work on, and how that will impact our students and school goals. The intentional focus drives action.
We also recognize the importance of empowering our students so they develop as leaders and help shape their school experience. We do this through several student groups including eagle ambassadors, sources of strength, and student council. The work they lead includes running the Welcome to Sixth Grade Eagle Camp, leading school tours, hosting parent events, working with elementary schools, leading social-emotional learning (SEL) work with our students and providing input on administrative decisions.
As principal, one of my core beliefs is developing others, and this includes partnering with our parents. Raising a middle school child is not easy so we value this partnership with our families. This work includes our Parent Ed Camps that focus on SEL topics/mental health and sixth grade home visits.
Evidence of Impact
Schools must evaluate if efforts provide the growth toward the right work. We call this “evidence of impact.” We analyze quantitative and qualitative data in the academic skills of our students, how connected we are as a school community, and listen to the needs of all stakeholders. This allows us to pivot, adjust, and be flexible with our practices.
A single person can make a significant difference, but leaders must create the conditions where collaborative leadership is the central point around which all work revolves. This should be intentional efforts to develop trust, focus on equity, build capacity in others, and analyze evidence of impact. I encourage all leaders to reflect, self-analyze on past experiences, and plan next steps that work toward collaborative leadership within your organization. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve.
Chris Legleiter is a Future Ready advisor and principal at Leawood Middle School in Blue Valley School District (KS). Connect with him on twitter at @clegleiter.