Education Opinion

Using Leadership Competencies to Drive Equity, Innovation, and Improvement

By Contributing Blogger — September 26, 2017 6 min read
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This post is by Ryan MacDonald, Program Associate with CCSSO’s Innovation Lab Network

Are you a school leader and working in or building a new learner-centered, personalized education environment? If yes, you might feel like you’re all alone trying to create a new school model for your students and faculty. It’s all new to you. It’s radically different from the model of school you went to or taught at previously, and you just don’t know if you’re on the right track or how to improve your practice and leadership style. You might be asking, “Where do I start?” What do I focus on?” “How do I know I’m making progress?” Well, I might be able to help you find a path forward.

Earlier this month, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and Jobs for the Future (JFF) released Leadership Competencies for Learner-Centered, Personalized Education. The resource serves as 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. The release of these competencies is a culmination of a nearly two-year process in developing the resource with input from local practitioners, state policymakers, and national organizations. The work began after the release of a companion document, the Educator Competencies for Personalized Learner-Centered Teaching, and the acknowledgement of the vital role a school leader plays in creating an environment that allows for educators to fully adopt learner-centered, personalized education. We believe leaders in this space need to possess specific knowledge, skills, and dispositions to successfully implement this model of learning.

The competencies span four domains:

  • The Vision, Values, and Culture domain encompasses a leader’s ability to establish a learning environment where all students graduate with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they need to succeed in college, career, and civic life. It emphasizes the importance of creating and maintaining an environment where all voices are valued and all experiences are viewed as opportunities to learn and grow.
  • The Personal Skills, Mindsets, and Values domain contains the competencies needed for a leader to personally demonstrate the vision, values, and culture represented in the first domain. These competencies describe leaders who model frequent and responsive monitoring of themselves and of the education environment in order to maintain a personalized, equitable, learner-centered school climate.
  • Skills in the Capacity Building for Innovation and Continuous Improvement domain describe what leaders need to do to develop and perpetuate capacity across the learning community to embrace ongoing change in a learner-centered manner that improves learning. Key competencies in this domain include building capacity for all members of the learning environment and maintaining a culture of growth and improvement.
  • The Shared Responsibility and Structures for Continuous Improvement, Innovation, and Assessment domain consists of the competencies required for leaders to create and maintain a learner-centered system of renewal and improvement, the structures to make it feasible, and to assess outcomes at all levels of the education environment

Using the Competencies

If you are a school leader and scanning and reading through the Leadership Competencies, you might be a bit over overwhelmed at first. “How can I possibly ensure I encompass each of these competencies?!” As a young, emerging leader myself, I too review the competencies and ponder how enormous the challenge is for school leaders to take on building a learner-centered, personalized environment. However, we, along with our consulted stakeholders, agree that individual school leaders should not take on all these specific competencies at once, but rather, we hope school leaders will embrace this resource as a “North Star” to guide improvement in their practice.

To assist you, the Leadership Competencies include a User’s Guide to help you use the Leadership Competencies in a productive manner. One method you could use is, “turn these competencies into a self-assessment rubric” to go through the competencies and assess how you are illustrating the competencies in each domain.

There’s also another way you might look at the Leadership Competencies. Each of the four domains emphasize six recurring themes:

  • Equity and Inclusion
  • Risk-taking and Innovation
  • Continuous Improvement
  • Change Management
  • Learner-Centered Approaches
  • Coherence and Alignment

As we conducted focus groups with educators and leaders working in this field, these themes were consistently highlighted as vital for leaders and practitioners in implementing learned-centered, education.

Each of these themes is important to explore, but let me focus on just three as a place to begin in reflecting on your leadership style and decisions to improve your practice.

First, Equity and Inclusion is vital for leaders to ensure each student is being served. That’s why this theme is emphasized more heavily than other themes across the four domains. In developing this resource, we believed it was important for all leaders to apply an equity lens in every aspect of their work, especially learner-centered, personalized education. As you’re reading through the competencies, you can focus on those that connect to Equity and Inclusion and take an inventory of how you and your staff are focusing on equity and then create a plan to learn how to better implement a system that supports each individual student, especially those students who have been historically underserved. I once was a student with a learning disability, so I understand firsthand how important it is to create a safe and welcoming environment for each student to help them achieve their learning and that needs to start with the school leader.

During our conversations with practitioners, along with equity, risk-taking and continuous improvement were both repeated over and over again as important for school leaders to embrace to succeed in this space.

As a leader in this field, you might want to ensure you’re embracing risk taking and innovation and creating a culture that values it both for your staff and students. With every new student a school supports, educators and instructional leaders will need to take risks and innovate to meet the needs of each student. To encourage that type of risk taking, you’ll need to reflect on how you’re cultivating a safe and empowering space for staff and students to take a risk. A way to use the Leadership Competencies to help your reflection is reading through and seeing where we mark a competency or indicator as illustrating “risk-taking and innovation.” As you’re creating a risk-taking culture, you can focus on how to utilize the risks and innovations to help with continuous improvement. This is another theme we highlight in the competencies, and believe it’s important for leaders to create a system and environment that is always trying to improve its practices to help each individual child to improve their learning. I’d encourage you, as a school leader, to look through the competencies and examine how you’re building a culture that encourages risk-taking and then uses those risks to drive continuous improvement for the schools.

If you’re a school leader and you’re opening this new resource, please do not feel overwhelmed but instead find the area in which you would like to improve your practice and begin there. Or try taking the self-assessment. Create a path for improving and use these competencies as your guide. You also can consider each of the four domains, or the themes that cut across each domain to improve your practice. We hope you find this resource useful in creating better ways to build and sustain learner-centered, personalized schools and learning environments now and in the future.

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.