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Leading Change in Education: How Responsive Leadership and Teamwork Transform Schools

Leading Change in Education: How Responsive Leadership and Teamwork Transform Schools

School Districts  |  District Leadership  |  School Leadership

In a time where there is a heightened focus on education, it is essential that leadership development not be forgotten. Educational leaders serve as the guiding force behind school communities, shaping the vision, culture, and direction of the schools they serve. Providing educational leaders with resources and support empowers them to inspire positive change, implement effective teaching practices, and cultivate a culture of continuous improvement. Effective leadership drives collaboration among educators, fosters a supportive learning environment for students, and promotes equity and inclusivity, strengthening the educational system and quality of learning. Ultimately, by prioritizing the development of educational leaders, we ensure that schools are equipped with the visionary leadership needed to navigate complex challenges, adapt to evolving needs, and empower all learners to reach their full potential.

Enter Responsive Leadership - an approach that creates the culture, structures, and system for organizational learning. Responsive Leadership enables the people who make up the school or district to learn from and with each other, developing their own skills and expertise as they maximize the capacity of the organization to achieve educational excellence for all students and address the evolving needs and challenges of school communities. It involves leaders who are attuned to the diverse needs of their communities, responsive to feedback, and committed to fostering a culture of continuous improvement. Responsive Leadership is essential for navigating the complexities of modern education and creating environments where all learners can thrive.

Serving 50,000 students in 88 schools and special programs, Charleston County School District understands the importance of investing in its leaders. This year, 30 school leaders, coaches, and aspiring leaders participated in a Responsive Leadership cohort, taking a unique opportunity to reflect on their leadership practices and learn skills and habits that allow them to be innovative leaders in developing their students, staff, and communities.  Cohort members participated in a two-day Responsive Leadership Institute in October 2023 and attended three follow-up workshops throughout the year that were designed to address their top of mind concerns and growth areas as leaders.  

Using The New School Rules, a framework for transforming schools developed by education experts Anthony Kim and Alexis Gonzales-Black, we created six impact metrics for the Responsive Leadership cohort in collaboration with CCSD, centering the cohort around a virtuous cycle of impact and growth.

Metrics for October Responsive Leadership Institute:

  • By the end of the workshop, 100% of attendees self-assess an area of focus for the 23-24 school year around one of the six rules (NSR).
  • By the end of the workshop, 100% of attendees commit to testing out a new strategy centered around their self-assessed focus within the responsive practices.
  • By the end of the workshop, there is an average of 4 (satisfied) or higher (very satisfied) on all feedback.

Metrics for Responsive Leadership Workshops:

  • There is an average of 4 (satisfied) or higher (very satisfied) on all feedback across the sessions.
  • By the final quarterly workshop, the cohort of leaders are using artifacts of practices being used in their own teams across the cohort of leaders.
  • CCSD creates a pipeline of qualified leaders who can step into key roles as needed, ensuring stability and continuity in leadership, even as personnel changes occur.

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These metrics held us accountable for effective implementation, creating expanded solutions, and ensuring targeted impact.  

For effective implementation of the cohort, we needed to make sure that what we developed and delivered resonated with educators– and was personalized for their needs. By receiving satisfied or highly satisfied on our surveys, we would know if we were reaching this outcome.

To create expanded solutions, we wanted to work together and collaborate to build evolving solutions for our participants. We had many different types of leaders in the sessions– from current APs to some who had been an AP for 15 years, and others who were in the role for the first time. We also had aspiring leaders and recent Teacher of the Year winners. We knew we had to create metrics that allowed each attendee to commit to a rule or a strategy that was dependent on their needs. For example, a veteran Assistant Principal committed to Schools Grow When People Grow and committed to developing strategies that were safe enough to try to over consensus whereas an aspiring school leader focused on Planning for Change, Not Perfection, and committed to implementing the quadrant planning protocol and flow map when brainstorming with colleagues. 

To ensure targeted impact, we prepared deliverables and materials for strong conversations that would allow the leaders in the room to be part of a pipeline of qualified leaders, who, no matter what they faced, had the skills and the will to step into key roles as needed. This allowed for a demonstrable impact on better and equitable outcomes, for all members of the CCSD community- not just those present in the room. Participants left each session ready to try out a new strategy that would impact their teams which in turn, benefited the students they were serving.

We were pleased to not just meet, but exceed our impact metrics.  At the last workshop, we interviewed cohort members to gain further context into the success and impact of the experience.  We heard that cohort members were grateful for the opportunity to invest in themselves, and were energized by the sessions and resources that they could bring back to their teams and schools.  One cohort member stated, “I felt this was the most effective professional development I have been to since starting with CCSD”.  Each cohort member nominated a colleague to participate in future sessions and stressed the importance of continued investment in leaders.  

We see an opportunity to continue the work with part two of a Responsive Leadership series with cohort members. This would allow us to expand the work with their nominated colleagues, and build alignment across the district by taking a systems approach to leadership development through individual and team learning. 

We hold the belief that if we develop responsive leaders within the context of, and alongside their teams and organizations, we will transform schools, school districts, and local education agencies into learning organizations.  In CCSD, we can see a clear pathway from investing in leaders with responsive leadership, to creating positive and strong school cultures where teachers and staff feel valued and energized in their work and student outcomes improve.  

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