We all know that teachers are the most impactful factor contributing to student achievement. No one would disagree that teachers are the defining factor in raising achievement levels in each classroom. Over time we have also discovered that the most important factor in improving whole schools or districts is the leader. We have heard the mantra over and over again, Leadership Matters. I agree. But not just any leader can improve a school or district particularly an underperforming or priority school. It takes a leader who understands that their role is to build the capacity of the staff to effect positive change. This leader also understands the need to harness the power within to raise the levels of achievement for all students. In other words, it takes a leader who can harness the power within to improve their school. This most often means accelerating the learning of both staff and students.
Many principals and superintendents inherit schools that are not only underperforming but also have a myriad of issues and concerns from students, teachers, parents, and the community. They are pulled in many directions each and every day. It is easy to put aside the most important work of school improvement. These leaders must be intentional about what they will focus on. The most important tool in a leader’s toolbox is focus. What the leader focuses on is exactly what the people in the school and district will focus on. It is easy to see what the leader is focused on because all of the staff questions and comments center on the things most important to the leader. If the leader is focused on learning, then the staff and students will be more likely to share learning questions and concerns. The leader must focus, focus, focus on the things that matter most!
Schools and districts are learning organizations. Their sole purpose or mission is to ensure high levels of learning for all students. The leader must establish and reinforce a commitment to learning. Learning is Required Here is the mantra that supports this focus. This requires that leadership at all levels become the lead learners in the organization. If learning is required, it means all of us are learners. In the role of lead learner, the leader creates the foundation and supports to accelerate learning for students and staff. This means the leader not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk. Leaders set the tone and example for a learning organization.
Answering Key Questions
Thinking about the role of leadership in improving schools and districts begs the overwhelmingly compelling question, does this type of leadership require superhuman powers, given all a leader must do? If the answer to this question is a resounding no, then how can a leader build a system that supports learning for all? Where do leaders begin? What structures, strategies, policies, and procedures must be in place to support a culture of learning for all? How do schools and districts organize for success?
The anthology, Charting the Course for Leaders: Lessons From Priority Schools in a PLC at Work addresses the most pressing problems of practice that confront leaders each and every day. In a deeper sense the authors have offered strategies, resources, and templates that set the stage for the kind of leadership that really, really matters as you work to improve your school or district. As this collection was compiled, the greatest hope was that it would serve to accelerate a leader’s journey toward improvement.
This anthology is a compilation of resources that add to the body of knowledge and provide specific how-to suggestions, strategies, and templates to support a school or district’s continuous improvement. As you will see in each chapter, this anthology features research-supported resources, which is important, but always keep in mind the best, most actionable books provide both the knowledge and the means to easily apply their contents to real-world situations. Although I intend for you to read it in its entirety, this book can also serve to address specific issues or problems, as each chapter offers specific and targeted support. Each chapter is comprehensive and provides learning experiences you can share with your team or entire staff. You will also find resources to expand your collaborative teams’ impact and that of its leaders. The authors reference and provide high-quality resources throughout every chapter so readers can explore the specific topics in depth.
Lessons for Leaders
Each chapter addresses a lesson learned firsthand during the improvement process. The chapter topics listed below are both relevant and worthy of a leader’s time and attention:
- Leading school improvement work with intention
- Building a supportive district culture so individual schools can improve
- Employing the highest leverage strategies at the district level that support the work of improving schools
- Building collaborative and passionately agreed to SMART goals
- Aligning the district, school, team, and teacher SMART goals for continuous improvement
- Focusing on collective responsibility for student achievement
- Leveraging shared leadership that moves learning forward
- Ensuring that the district guiding coalition/leadership team and the school leadership/learning teams are really impacting student learning
- Monitoring productivity instead of the activity of collaborative teams
- Providing feedback and support on the right work
- Giving all teachers the coach and support they need and deserve
- Challenging proficient students while addressing the needs of the others
- Taking the five deliberate steps in high school improvement
The schools and districts the authors describe in this collection are diverse in their sizes, demographics, grade spans, geographical locations, and available resources. The topics may not be new, but the value of each chapter lies in the practical application and examples each author presents to address the ongoing issues that plague schools and districts and get in the way of real improvement.
Real school improvement does not happen one teacher at a time. Real school improvement requires a collective, cohesive effort. This collective effort is led by a leader that understands the role of the lead learner is to build the capacity of the staff on an ongoing basis. There is an urgency that exists and helps to accelerate the learning of everyone involved. The schools and district understand that accountability for learning and results is everyone’s job. Everyone is responsible for every students’ learning. The lead learner is essential and drives all of these collective improvement efforts. This book is a call to action for all leaders. Leadership really, really matters!