The Leadership Our Schools (and Our State) Needs

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Gubernatorial elections tend to generate lots of passionate debate regarding education.  Our recent election was no exception!  Currently debated educational issues- charter schools, teacher evaluation systems, and academic achievement to name a few- prompted me to think very deeply about my own beliefs regarding the role Maine educators should take in responding to the current and future challenges facing our state and nation.  I am convinced that now, more than ever, it is critically important that our schools have incredibly knowledgeable, creative, and skilled leadership that inspires learning and manages extraordinary change. The Bright Futures report gives us a solid leadership framework for this kind of leadership.

Below is Core Practice Six from Bright Futures. It is important to note that leadership, as described in the report, is not the responsibility of one person.  Rather, leadership is the shared effort of a team that is committed to creating exceptional learning environments for all students.

School leaders, using a collaborative and democratic leadership model, focus on establishing an environment that supports the learning needs of young adolescents.

Rationale

Effective middle level principals have a deep understanding of the development of young adolescents and the programs and practices that are best suited to their learning environment. However, as knowledgeable as these principals need to be, they cannot do everything alone. Working closely with both formal and informal leaders through a democratic governance structure, often referred to as a Leadership Team, principals build investment, understanding, and action where teachers are ultimately responsible for the school they make. Highly collaborative and democratic leadership structures result in more students of all abilities attaining higher achievement (Jackson & Davis, 2000). Other ways to support collaboration and democratic processes in a school include professional learning communities and healthy, dynamic teams.

Essential Elements

• The Leadership Team uses the expertise of teachers, team leaders, and the principal to provide leadership for the entire school. The Leadership Team sets direction, analyzes data, promotes risk taking, and functions as both the long and short-term leadership for the school.

• Middle level principals and leaders keep current with middle level research, best practice, and systemic change theory.

• Interdisciplinary teams are the hallmark of effective middle level schools. Time, energy, and resources are allocated for the development and maintenance of healthy team dynamics. Team leaders receive training in facilitation skills.

• Professional learning communities that explore effective instructional practices are in place. Through them teachers examine student work, share strategies, and convene peer reviews of units of study, thus creating a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility for decision making in school improvement efforts.

• System level leadership, including the superintendent, central office staff, and the school board, is knowledgeable about young adolescents and middle level education, particularly within the K-12 spectrum. These school system leaders advocate for excellent middle level schools for every young adolescent.

In order for our state to grow and thrive, all Maine leaders, including those in schools, must have the courage to reflect on their current leadership practices to ensure they are effectively leading change.

Below is an assessment tool that may be useful for taking stock of a school’s current leadership practices. This tool is based on five core leadership practices that are associated with effective leadership. Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner developed their leadership model based on these five practices as a result of 25 years of original research and data from over 3 million leaders. Feel free to share it with your school leadership and with a newly elected state official as well!

Assessing the Leadership Practices of Our School (and Our State!)

1.  Challenging the Process

We search for opportunities to change the status quo. We experiment and take risks and accept disappointments as learning opportunities.

0            1            2            3            4            5

2. Inspiring a Shared Vision

We passionately believe that we can make a difference. We create an ideal image of what the future could be and enlist others in our dream.

0            1            2            3            4            5

3. Enabling Others to Act

We foster collaboration and build a spirited team. We strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity and strengthen others.

0            1            2            3            4            5

4. Modeling the Way

We establish principles of how we should be treated and the way goals should be pursued.  We create standards of excellence.

0            1            2            3            4            5

5. Encouraging the Heart

We recognize contributions made by individuals and celebrate accomplishments.  We make people feel like heroes.

0            1            2            3            4            5

For more information on the Kouzes and Posner leadership model, visit http://www.leadershipchallenge.com/WileyCDA/

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One Response to “The Leadership Our Schools (and Our State) Needs”

  1. Catherine Ring Says:

    These are excellent practices for teams to assess themselves on. The language used here is positive and inclusive. The statement “We strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity and strengthen others” is key to attaining what Mary describes above: “Leadership is the shared effort of a team that is committed to creating exceptional learning environments for all students”. I always appreciate it when language is carefully crafted in a positive light and describes high standards. Well done!

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