October 10, 2023 9:00 AM-3:00 PMLearn More
Since the time of John Dewey, the question of “how can schools be better for students?” has been examined. As an assistant superintendent, my days of directly impacting students within the classroom on a daily basis are pretty far removed. However, there is another audience that deserves attention through the lens of leadership vs logistics, a culture of collegiality, and leadership expansion for sustainability.
School leaders are second only to teachers regarding the impact on student success (Superville, 2019). There are numerous guidebooks as to how principals can focus on culture and climate to impact teachers and students (Casas, 2017). As principals share their purposeful planning for their work with teachers, I, as the Assistant Superintendent, try to reflect on how I deliberately plan time for leaders.
Leadership vs Logistics
It wasn’t too long ago that principals’ time was dedicated to health and safety standards, like contact tracing, for the majority of the day. School leaders benefit from designated time and space to focus on leadership themes rather than logistical tasks. There will always be a time to talk about how to run a school. In recognizing the importance of Collaborative Leadership, the outer ring of the Future Ready Framework, we must reflect on how much time we actually spend on how to lead a school? Here are a few strategies that we use to stay focused on collaborative leadership:
- Leadership Meetings: A weekly 60-minute meeting dedicated strictly to leadership themes, such as planning for change, designing professional learning, and analyzing strategic plan initiatives.
Norms were established for leadership meetings by using Brené Brown’s (2018) BRAVING protocol. At the conclusion of every leadership meeting, we randomly draw one of those norms to evaluate our successful implementation.
- Logistics Meeting: A weekly 30-minute virtual meeting dedicated to logistics, such as reviewing of resources, clarity of expectations, and calendar coordination.
We intentionally only have one leader per building attend these meetings, although all leaders can access the collaborative notes at any time.
Just as teachers did not go into education for the purpose of state-mandated assessments, principals did not become school leaders for managerial tasks. Preserving time for leadership development not only builds capacity, but also engages principals in the type of work that is challenging, exciting, and, ultimately, impacts student success.
The principalship is a unique job and these leaders need a cohort of others that truly understand the complexities of the position. A sense of collegiality between principals allows for ongoing professional learning through a built-in community of support. Purposeful strategies we use to build a collegial culture are:
- Show and Tell: Principals have access to leadership resources, like ASCD’s Education Leadership, Harvard Business Review, and Ed Week. Rather than expecting each school leader to review and synthesize these resources, a member of the team takes a turn sharing a link of a resource, a quick summary of that article, and its application.
- Share the Joy: Coming out of the last two years of high health concerns, a theme for our district is JOY! Each week, the leaders of each school take turns sharing an idea of how to create joy for teachers and for students. Those ideas are often replicated in other buildings or transformed into new ideas for subsequent weeks.
- Horizontal and Vertical Teamwork: In every leadership meeting, there are short activities for building-level teams and vertical teams.
- Here’s a specific example:
Reading a short article followed by a 5-10 minute protocol (Thompson-Grove, 2017) of
- “what” (one sentence)
- “so what” (two sentences)
- “now what” (three sentences)
- Here’s a specific example:
- Welcome and Celebrate Different Strengths: By using different tools, such as the Principles You Survey, we reflect on our differences through a strength-based approach, recognizing the strengths of individual team members for different tasks.
- Merry Meals: It’s no secret that food brings people together. We celebrate milestones by scheduling lunch meetings, ranging from catering by the district office to a potluck meal.
Expanding Collaborative Leadership
Headlines capture the concerns related to teacher shortage which extends to school leadership. According to an EdWeek article, nearly half of the principals leave their schools after three years (Superville, 2019). Expanding leadership is the key to sustainability. Sometimes, the best leaders don’t have titles so by extending an invitation to a teacher to join a leadership opportunity, we are celebrating a teacher’s expertise, increasing shared ownership, and distributing leadership tasks with enthusiastic partners (Murray & Sheninger, 2018). Ways to increase leadership have included:
- Professional Learning: Most principals have received some type of formal training through a university or college. By developing and providing leadership courses, teachers become informed partners in decision-making about the change process, adult learning, and the role of vision.
- Special Projects: We sometimes are hesitant to ask teachers if they would like to lead a special project or event. It’s easy to forget all those years ago when I, as a teacher, excitedly jumped at any chance to work with the principal on a special task. Who are those teachers who have expertise in particular areas that can be applied outside of their classrooms?
- Teacher on Special Assignment: Though this idea may be cost-prohibitive at times, it is a worthy investment in increasing the capacity and talent of your team. Even if it is temporary or short-term, a teacher on special assignment can assist with a particular area or initiative, both serving to help teachers through actions like coaching while also building leadership capacity.
Many years ago, I was hesitant to leave the classroom because I would miss students and the impact of a classroom. As a principal, I learned that instead of knowing a class of students, I had the opportunity to know a whole school of students and to influence the student experience through leadership. Once again, as a principal, I was hesitant to leave building leadership; I would miss the interaction with students and teachers. As an assistant superintendent, I have the honor and responsibility to work with school leaders that make a substantial difference in the life of students and teachers. Through a focus on collaborative leadership, a culture of collegiality, and expanded leadership, school leaders receive the support, resources, and community that they need so that teachers, and therefore students, remain our priority.
Check out the Future Ready webinar, “Emerging Strong Postpandemic,” highlighting the work of the principals from Indian Hill, and join us for a site visit to Indian Hill on October 6th following the Future Ready Institute at Hamilton County ESC the day prior.
Melissa Stewart is the Assistant Superintendent at Indian Hill Village School District in Cincinnati, OH.
- Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead: Brave work. Tough conversations. Whole hearts. Random House.
- Casas, J. (2017). Culturize: Every student. Every day. Whatever it takes.
- Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.
- Murray, T. & Sheninger, E. (2018, March 16). What it means to be a true leader. ASCD.
- Thompson-Grove, G. (2017, March 30). What? So what? Now what? School Reform Initiative.
- Superville, D. (2019, December 19). Principal turnover is a problem. New data could help districts combat it. Education Week.