Cultivating Leadership Within the School to Support Common Core Implementation

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) provide a robust example of how critically important it is to have a dedicated team of leaders in a school working to implement change.  The CCSS implementation will require substantial changes in planning and instruction from every person in the building.  While principals play a critical role in leading a school and have a tremendous impact on student learning, leadership is broader than just the principal.    

New Leaders has been conducting research on the most effective principals and has discovered that much of the success that schools experience is due to a core group of actions that principals take.  At the apex of these core actions is the ability to cultivate leadership at all levels across a school.  There are no successful schools without a strong leadership team. School leadership is made up of both school leadership team members and teacher leaders who give voice and motivation to all the educators around them and who focus on the key elements of instructional leadership, particularly providing feedback on teaching practice, supporting curriculum development and lesson planning, and using data to drive instruction.

A principal or school can take a number of actions to ensure they are cultivating leadership at all levels.

First, look for effective teachers with the potential to work well with other adults.  Leadership requires the willingness to give feedback that is candid and critical while also being supportive.

Second, create an instructional leadership team and then model the specific instructional leadership skills and expectations needed to drive implementation and improvement.  These could include: modeling protocols for effective unit and lesson planning aligned to the Common Core; leading analyses of released assessment items and discussing the instructional shifts necessary to meet the new, higher expectations; conducting joint observations to ensure alignment on approach and focus on the required changes in instruction; and building shared language and approaches for cultivating a school culture around the belief that every student can and must become ready for college and careers.

Finally, focus first and foremost on being the instructional leader.  Leaders at every school will need to help teachers understand the new standards, backwards map from the new assessments as they are created, shift lesson plans and instruction to meet the new student expectations, and provide ongoing observation and feedback to support quality implementation.  This will require leaders to ensure they are focused on instruction before everything else, and consistently re-orient their teams to maintaining a focus on instructional excellence and professional growth as they seek to align their work within the context of the new standards.  

Every school needs to examine how they are supporting their most critical resource, their educators, to be change agents and leaders so that all students have the opportunity to receive a first class education every day. This not only requires a leader with a vision for excellence but also a leader who is committed to cultivating a strong leadership team by raising up dedicated individuals within their school community.

July 30, 2013