Leading the work within a school is a significant opportunity and responsibility. It is a great opportunity as you can impact the lives of so many students and help set them up for success. Likewise, it is a big responsibility as you determine their current experience and impact potentially 3 generations including their parents, student themselves and potential children. The experience you provide for others as far as the skills, attitudes and beliefs and how that will lead them throughout life is the purpose of our work. When you reflect upon these words, it may seem daunting and overwhelming. However, I believe this helps one to recognize the importance of Collaborative Leadership. It is vital that leaders continually grow with their skill set, but to maximize their impact, leaders understand developing others through a culture of Collaborative Leadership has much greater return and stronger foundation over time.
Through my experiences of leading others and learning from other leaders, here are key components to creating a Culture of Collaborative Leadership and some practical examples of this in action 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. But the work of schools is most complex as we strive to create a forward thinking vision of teaching and learning for the school. This is best accomplished when leaders create trusting relationships. Leaders create trust over time through their Character (how we interact with others) and through their Competence (how well we do our job). Specifically, we must find ways to have consistent 1:1 interactions with our school community. I recognize the more opportunities I can interact with students, staff and families in small settings then I have a greater chance to help them feel cared for and valued. Currently, our admin team creates “Motivational Monday videos” which are 1-2 minute video reflections that we share weekly with our students and families. We reflect upon our lives and share reflections that revolve around character but demonstrate vulnerability and authenticity. We developed this idea from the work of @Joe_Sanfelippo and his “1 minute walk to work”. We have found that our videos create regular opportunities for human interaction and help build relationships. Ultimately, we strive to create the conditions where people feel cared for, supported and nurtured. As the principal, I believe I can work on this daily and it starts by modeling the behaviors we want from others in my words, actions and attitudes. A Vision statement or mission statement truly are just words, but it is through how people interact with each other and treat each other that models the culture and vision of your school.
A focus on equity – how do you help ALL students, staff and families
Collaborative leadership at the heart means the “collective working together to get desired results”. For schools, the collective means ALL staff, ALL students and ALl families have opportunities to be heard, share ideas and be part of the work of the school community. We have found the following ways most efficient and successful as a way to support this work:
- Have feedback mechanisms in place on consistent basis
For our students, our admin team meets with students frequently through “feedback loops” where we have 3-4 questions and listen to our students. We then share the themes back with our staff to help plan our next steps of our school purpose. For our staff, we strive to provide several points of feedback throughout the year either through 1:1 listening sessions, google forms or simply stopping by their rooms to chat. Listening to those we serve is a priority for us. 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 with our families a Book Study where staff and families will together read and discuss strategies and skills middle school students need to thrive.
- Set a vision for your school and reflect upon the work frequently
Our vision is focused on being student driven and centered on the needs of our learners. Schools must constantly adapt to changing times and the COVID-19 Pandemic has resulted in even greater feedback from our school community to best meet their needs.
Build Capacity in Others to lead
As we lead the work of our school community, we have always focused on the importance of “growth”. In other words, as professionals we recognize that in order to strive for excellence we cannot focus on being perfect but rather being intentional with our efforts and try to get a little better each day. 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 teacher designed and teacher led as much as possible. We also incorporate a Genius Hour where they have choice upon their learning. In recent years,we have shifted towards each staff member having a Personal Growth Plan which is simply where they describe the areas they want to grow in, the strategies they will work on and how that will impact our students and school goals. This poster is displayed within their classrooms as we believe that being visible and intentional is a driving motivation for many.
We also recognized the importance of empowering our students so they develop as leaders and they can determine the type of school we have. We do this through several student groups including Eagle Ambassadors, Sources of Strength and Student Council. The work they lead includes running a Welcome 6th grade Eagle Camp, leading school tours, hosting parent events, working with elementary schools, leading SEL work with our students and providing input on administrative decisions.
As Principal, one of my core beliefs, is developing others and this also includes partnering with our parents. We are so proud of the work our parents/guardians support our school with including our Parent Ed Camps that focus on SEL topics and mental health. This allows our families to have a much greater understanding of how to support their child’s needs. Each year we strive to meet the needs of our families at deeper levels, so this year we have created “Parent Liaison for new families” where our own parents work with new families to help them be connected and answer questions.
Evidence of impact
As we work with our school community, it is most essential to determine if our efforts are providing the growth towards the results we need. We call this “evidence of impact”. To determine if your strategies are working, you must use data and feedback from others and analyze this at regular intervals. It is important to use the right data. As Albert Einstein has said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, not everything that counts can be counted”. We can collect lots of data but it is vital to analyze the quantitative and qualitative data to determine if the school is making progress. We do this through analyzing the academic skills of our students, how connected we are as a school community and listening to the needs of all stakeholders so we can pivot, adjust and be flexible with our practices. In our current pandemic with COVID, our work with our staff in the academic area has solely focused on enhancing our feedback to our students. We believe that feedback is the key to deeper learning and we measure this by how well our students demonstrate, create, and articulate the processes and skills of their classes.
A single person can make a significant difference. But one person doesn’t make a team but one person can break a team. Leaders must create the conditions of their school where collaborative leadership is the central point that all work revolves around. The focus and work of the leaders do make a difference as they set the tone and influence a school’s culture. As a leader I must adapt and understand what I must do differently to be the most effective leader for our school community. True leadership occurs by intentional efforts when you work extremely hard to improve your own learning and that leads to an improved school. I encourage all leaders to reflect upon how you build Collaborative Leadership within your school. When you can self-analyze your past and what you learned from those experiences, it allows you to focus on spending the right efforts towards building excellence. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org