Education Opinion

Understanding Transformational Leadership: Our Journey

By Contributing Blogger — September 28, 2017 6 min read
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This post is by Adriana Martinez, Innovation Manager for the Council of Chief State School Officers

In 2015, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and Jobs for the Future’s (JFF) Students at the Center released the Educator Competencies for Personalized, Learner-Centered Teaching, a resource focused on identifying the skills and abilities teachers need to support personalized, student-centered learning. Quickly after this resource was published, states participating in CCSSO’s Innovation Lab Network called for a stronger focus on the role of school leaders. After all, teachers cannot transform and sustain their practice without the support of their school leaders.

In response to the feedback, CCSSO and JFF released the Leadership Competencies for Learner-Centered, Personalized Education (the Leadership Competencies) in September. The Leadership Competencies take a first step in identifying the knowledge, skills, and dispositions leaders must master in order to build and sustain learner-centered, personalized schools and learning environments. This set of competencies articulates and defines what leaders need to know and be able to do in order to create transformative, student centered-learning. If you are a school leader and want to learn more about the Leadership Competencies, check out this blog by my colleague. I want to share our journey to develop this tool and how we hope it can be used as we move forward with state chiefs on how to prepare, recruit and develop leaders for learner-centered, personalized education.

We didn’t start from zero but we had tremendous help

When JFF and CCSSO first took on the endeavor of building the Leadership Competencies, we were fortunate to start with a strong foundation. To get started, we established a working group representing nine states from the Innovation Lab Network. We began by examining a set of critical source frameworks, including the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) and other frameworks on best practices related to leadership and on leadership for innovation. We did not want to create new standards; rather, we wanted to create competencies to help leaders implement standards with a strong focus on learner-centered systems. For educational leaders, this means building trust, taking risks, cultivating growth mindsets, and implementing distributive leadership models. As we examined the source frameworks, we had to ask ourselves: how do these tools reflect the knowledge, skills, and mindsets we need from transformational leaders that can create change and redesign school around the needs of learners?

To answer that question, we relied heavily on the help of others. State education agency leaders, district superintendents, school principals, teachers, and national leaders helped us examine these frameworks. They provided guidance on the development of the Leadership Competencies and informed crucial decisions. For example, we decided not to include general best practices related to educational leaders because those are already well articulated in leadership standards (there’s no need to reinvent the wheel). Their feedback also guided how we organized the competencies, the language we used, the guiding principles we used, and the design of the resource. At least 145 stakeholders were involved in a variety of forms, including meetings, workshops, focus groups, and advisory teams. Our stakeholders helped us wrestle with complex and challenging questions, particularly around how we can ensure equity drives our work. They helped us be intentional about creating a tool to help leaders increase equitable opportunities for outcomes for all kids and mitigate risks of exacerbating inequities. Ultimately, this helped us embed equity into all the domains of the Leadership Competencies as well as provide guidance on how to apply an equity lens. As a result of their guidance, our stakeholders helped us create a bold document that pushes the boundaries of how we talk about leaders, schools, and equity.

We still have a long way to go

The Leadership Competencies were developed to be a living document, and we hope users will adapt them to meet their needs. Now that we’ve released the competencies and identified the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to build and sustain learner-centered, personalized education, we are focusing on how we can build a pipeline of transformational leaders who are prepared for this work. That is, how can we use the competencies to better prepare, recruit, and develop leaders for learner-centered, personalized education?

We convened a group of stakeholders in August to begin this work and help us begin to understand:

  • What are the challenges along the leadership pipeline that we can address?
  • What are strategies for addressing those problems that are both feasible and impactful?

As you can imagine, the conversations from that meeting were messy and challenging, but our group surfaced several ideas and potential strategies to inform future action. Based on these conversations from our meeting, we recognized several initial steps states can take to lead and strengthen the pipeline for learner-centered, personalized education leaders.

  • Supporting local leaders in developing a shared vision for learner-centered, personalized education: State chiefs can engage with local leaders to build a collective vision, collaborate to implement learner-centered approaches, and advocate for learner-centered leaders. These actions can help build trust among state leaders and local implementers and help resolve uncertainties around the appropriate roles between schools, districts, and state education agencies when it comes to implementation.
  • Preparing and recruiting learner-centered, personalized education leaders: State leaders play a critical role when it comes to preparing and recruiting leaders for learner-centered schools by facilitating partnerships between school districts and preparation program providers. State chiefs can encourage preparation programs and districts to develop candidates’ capacity through low-risk, authentic practical experiences that expose them to learner-centered, personalized education schools. State chiefs should also work with school districts and preparation programs to ensure diversity of candidates by eliminating barriers through incentives such as loan forgiveness programs and residency models and by monitoring data and reviewing impact of state policies related to leaders (such as licensure).
  • Developing and growing leaders to foster learner-centered, personalized education: State leaders can also orient the professional development supported by their state education agencies around learner-centered, personalized education with district leaders to build the capacity of local leaders. Professional learning should model learner-centered approaches by allowing for customized, flexible pathways which can be implemented through structures such of micro-credentials and leadership cohorts.

The Leadership Competencies can act as a foundational resource to support these initial steps. For example, the Leadership Competencies can:

  • Provide a common framework to help state leaders engage with their districts to develop a common vision and facilitate partnerships with preparation programs.
  • Inform the development of criteria for quality candidates who can take on leadership roles for learner-centered personalized education.
  • Be adapted as a coaching tool or self-assessment guide for professional development.

To get started, states can review the Transforming Educator Preparation: Lessons Learned from Leading States playbook, which outlines specific steps states have taken to improve educator preparation. Many of the actions recommended from this resource can inform how state leaders can address leadership preparation. The Wallace Foundation also provides guidance on how states can take action to develop high-quality leaders. Moving forward, CCSSO will continue to work with states in the Innovation Lab Network to use both the Educator and Leadership Competencies to guide states’ efforts and build the capacity of their educators and leaders to implement learner-centered, personalized states.

The opinions expressed in Learning Deeply are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.