Fresh Leadership Ideas That Can Energize Your School

Cathy GassenheimerLast month, when, my March issue of Educational Leadership arrived, I looked longingly at its cover, which revealed this theme: “Leading the Energized School.”

As much as I wanted to start reading immediately, the upcoming series of Key Leaders Network meetings along with one of our regional restarts of the Instructional Partners Network demanded my attention elsewhere.

Fortunately, I’ve now made the time to read the issue and found it full of useful insights and ideas. Just thinking about an “energized school” ought to make all of us smile! I’ve decided to highlight three articles and touch on another two, but trust me, every article and column is worth reading. (As always, if you or your school is not an ASCD member, you can purchase single copies here.)

The Empathetic School

 Carol Ann Tomlinson and Michael Murphy suggest educators consider making their school an “empathetic school,” described as “an inclusive place where the highest aspirations of democracy are consistently at work, where community functions as it should, and where the best of human behavior is evident every day” (p. 24).

This is certainly a lofty goal, and the article suggests steps the principal, faculty, and students can take to move in this direction. Reminding us that “human beings are born with kindness and compassion,” those dispositions need to be nurtured over time. The authors tick off the neuroscience supporting their argument:

  • Stress and negative classroom associations impair learning.
  • Emotion surpasses cognition, so that when a learner feels threatened, it is unlikely that the part of the brain in which cognition occurs will function as it should.
  • The brain is quick to tune in to threat and slow to forget it (see the work of Sousa, 2011; Sousa & Tomlinson, 2017; Willis, 2007).
  • The brain is a social organ and so close, supportive relationships enhance learning (Cozolino, 2013).
  • A teacher functions much like a parent in building a young person’s brain. A caring teacher who shows positive regard for a learner, demonstrates optimism, is encouraging, and minimizes classroom conflict positively impacts student achievement (Cozolino, 2013). In addition, Carol Dweck’s work (2006) makes a compelling case for the importance of teachers working from a growth mindset about their students so those students can develop a growth mindset about themselves and others.

Two empathetic schools are showcased in the article. The first is a middle school that established a comprehensive bullying program, providing a safe space in school for victims of bullying. The second, a K-8 school, established a “greeter” program where students are welcomed as they enter school each day. Older students serve as “Way Finders,” who mentor their younger colleagues.

Tomlinson and Murphy conclude by providing a clear description of an empathetic school:

An empathetic school would focus on the full humanity of each member of the community. It would be energizing to work there, and it would enable educators to teach, learn, and make choices as acts of caring. It would nurture in students the desire to understand and the capacity to reach out to others with acceptance and trust.

Fostering More Vibrant Schools
(requires membership or purchase)

In this article, authors Megan Tschannen-Moran and Davis Clement explore strategies to develop schools where children want to attend and engage deeply in learning and with each other. They’ve identified three dimensions of this type of vibrant school: enlivened minds, emboldened voices, and playful learning.

  • Enlivened minds refers to contexts where “the creativity of students, teachers, leaders, and parents is fostered and can flourish,” intellectually and in other ways (p. 29).
  • Emboldened voices enable all stakeholders to have input in the decision-making of the school, including curriculum, teaching, and policy. But it doesn’t stop there – stakeholders are assured that their voices will be “taken seriously and responded to with respect” (p. 30).
  • Playful learning environments invite movement and play to more completely engage students intellectually.

This article also featured an intriguing sidebar about appreciative inquiry, which I recommend to everyone!

The Power of Collective Efficacy

Two of the three authors of this article, John Hattie and Jenni Donohoo, are familiar to members of our Networks. Jenni visited Alabama last year to share her findings about collective efficacy, and John Hattie’s longitudinal studies on the most effective instructional strategies and actions continue to inform our work. Hattie found that teachers who are “collectively efficacious” can spur gains in learning more than three times greater than many other strategies, including parental involvement, motivation, and engagement.

So what is collective efficacy? It occurs when “a team of individuals share the belief that through their unified efforts they can overcome challenges and produce intended results” (p. 41).

This article complements our current focus in both the Powerful Conversations Network and Key Leaders Network, where we are exploring the Internal Coherence Framework, developed by scholars at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Their framework, shown below, values both individual and collective efficacy, and like Hattie and Donohoo, they’ve found it a critical factor in high performing schools.

Other Energizing Articles

Additionally, there are so many other valuable articles in this EL issue on “Leading the Energized School.” For example, Michael Fullan and Michelle Pinchot build on the idea of internal coherence when they detail the rapid turnaround of a struggling elementary school. Two of the key factors identified are coherence and distributed leadership. Also, the great potential of teacher leadership is featured in an article outlining the role of teacher leaders at Berkeley High School in California.

Visit the index page for this March issue and you’ll also find unlocked articles by Jill Harrison Berg, Thomas Hoerr, Alexis Wiggins, Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey, and Carol Ann Tomlinson, among others.

In short, once again I got more than my money’s worth in this issue of Educational Leadership. It is no wonder EL is celebrating its 75th year of publication. Here’s to another productive 75 years!