3 Ways to Create a Team That Drives Schoolwide Change

Leadership requires creating the conditions for achieving positive change at scale. Structuring your instructional leadership team for success will allow it to drive excellence and equity across your school.
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5/19/22
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School leadership is a team sport, especially now. As schools face increasingly complex challenges, continuous adaptation is paramount. Long gone are the days when the school leader had all the answers. Effective school leadership requires identifying leadership potential, nurturing it, and creating the conditions for achieving positive change at scale. Whether you’re forming a leadership team or you serve on one, structuring your team for success will allow it to drive instructional excellence and equity across your school.

Instructional Leadership Teams (ILTs) are key vehicles for achieving change, as they provide a systematic way to practice distributed leadership. Last month, we discussed how a high-functioning ILT starts with getting the right people around the table. That can't be overstated. At the same time, a leadership team composed of diverse perspectives and good intentions is just the beginning. To realize the full potential of your ILT—and, by extension, distributed leadership—you need to structure it for success. 

Here are three strategies with actionable tips that will accelerate the impact of your ILT.

Get clear on where you're going

Getting clear in your ILT begins with coming back to your vision. What do excellence and equity look like for ALL of the students under your care? Reflect on your school's vision and work with your team to define what good instruction means. Going a step further, align on a common definition of equity to create consistency around equity-minded goals. After you've got your foundation, invest time upfront in creating an intentional meeting protocol and rules of engagement. Here are a few steps you can take to get more clear:

  • Establish group norms. Norms are shared agreements about how the team will work together. These guiding principles can cover everything from how the group will handle disagreements to expectations for each team member. Without this clarity, collaborative work may reinforce inequitable patterns within the organization. You want to protect equity of voice so all leadership team members can speak freely.  
  • Structure productive meetings. Start by determining which roles you need and which team members will step into them. At a minimum, assign a facilitator, recorder, and timekeeper for each meeting. These roles can rotate among team members. Distributing responsibilities in this way facilitates transparency and ownership. To ensure clarity of purpose, always prepare an agenda. Pro tip: Assign time limits for each agenda item—and stick to them! Use a "Parking Lot" to bookmark topics for future meetings.
  • Create clarity around decision-making. ILTs benefit from sharing decision-making and ownership, but not all decisions can be made by consensus. Communicate if a decision will be yours or the group's. And, let the data do the talking when it comes to making decisions about what problems of practice to prioritize.
Getting clear in your ILT begins with coming back to your vision. What do excellence and equity look like for ALL of the students under your care? 

Use data to get—and stay—focused

Focus is the energizer and driving force behind widespread school change. When there are too many problems of practice and not enough time in the day, it's easy to become overwhelmed. When you try to attend to multiple priorities, you scratch the surface and make little progress on those that matter most. The antidote? Get comfortable with your data. 

Data—not perception—should determine what areas you focus on. Data cycles provide the structure to objectively prioritize high-value activities and minimize time-wasters. A robust data protocol hones your focus, keeps student learning front and center, and helps underrepresented students get the support they need. Here are three ways effective ILTs  use data to realize widespread school improvement:

  • Look to disaggregated, schoolwide data to identify a common goal or practice. Use data protocols to reduce bias and explore trends—both positive and negative—that impact groups of students. When an ILT commits to making changes to adult practices that support students, schoolwide improvement can occur more quickly.
  • Encourage teachers to seek out and use student data to improve instruction. Create a culture on your leadership team, and across your school community, where you regularly look at student work to inform instructional practices. Introducing short-cycle assessments in classrooms can create opportunities for students to demonstrate growth and for teachers to provide students with regular feedback on specific learning targets. 
  • Monitor data to track progress and course-correct. The ILT needs to continuously monitor data to evaluate the success of interventions or school-wide initiatives over time. Data can also signal to the team that they need to adjust their approach and move forward differently. You can scale up practices that improve student outcomes when you know the impact of your efforts.
Data—not perception—should determine what areas you focus on. Data cycles provide the structure to objectively prioritize high-value activities and minimize time-wasters.

Build leaders through support and coaching

While shared norms and a well-organized meeting agenda will make your meetings productive, they'll only get your school leadership team so far. ILT members need to upskill their leadership to assume responsibility. In addition to helping team members effectively contribute during collaborative planning work, team members also need to develop teacher practice consistently across the school. Help your ILT members excel in their roles by taking these three actions:

  • Provide professional learning on team roles. Developing a high-performing team requires everyone to lean in and learn. Team members benefit from professional learning that allows them to develop leadership skills, such as how to stay motivated despite setbacks and use effective questioning to push thinking and spur innovation. 
  • Align on classroom observation. For consistency across the school, ILT members need to learn how to conduct observations and provide effective feedback to the teachers they oversee. Support teacher leaders in understanding what to look for in classrooms and how to look for it.
  • Remember to coach your team too. You can train your ILT members to be great coaches to the teachers they lead, but remember that teacher leaders also need coaching. Coaching ILT members promotes continuous improvement, builds synergy across the team, and empowers team members to try new strategies to build collective efficacy.  
Effective school leadership requires identifying leadership potential, nurturing it, and creating the conditions for achieving positive change at scale. 

Putting it all together

Bestselling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin writes in Tribes that "leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work." It's time to abandon the idea that educational leadership is the job of a few at the top and to create the structures and processes to help distributed leadership thrive in schools. There’s no limit to what we—and our students—can achieve when this occurs.  

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