Expanding Access to Leadership Development for Teachers
“When I think about our Aspiring School Leaders Collaborative, I think about teachers like Julia Lopes, Niktoshia Giles, and Kady Preston, who are now serving as academic deans in our schools,” reflects Christopher Ruszkowski, CEO, Meeting Street Schools in South Carolina.
Over the past two years, Meeting Street has been the anchor network for the Aspiring School Leaders Collaborative in South Carolina. This multi-year partnership with New Leaders provides a professional learning community for educators to learn, practice, and grow their leadership skills, whether they remain in the classroom or seek out formal school leadership roles. It consists of full-day learning sessions, one-on-one coaching, and job-embedded activities that allow participants to translate theory into everyday practice.
“We have a responsibility to think about the future, and we all want to build intentional leadership pipelines for talent coming up through our organization and across our state,” Ruszkowski explains. Meeting Street, founded by entrepreneurs Ben and Kelly Navarro in 2008, is a unique network of schools—with private-independent schools, public schools of innovation, and public charter schools—that serves close to 2,000 students at its four campuses, with a fifth campus to open in Jasper County.
“When I think about our Aspiring School Leaders Collaborative, I think about teachers like Julia Lopes, Niktoshia Giles, and Kady Preston, who are now serving as academic deans in our schools.” - Ruszkowski
Next school year, the Aspiring School Leaders Collaborative will expand to engage educators from Meeting Street as well as educators from multiple district and school partners across Charleston, Spartanburg, Greenville and beyond. This expansion is being catalyzed by a generous contribution from Charleston Coalition for Kids and other South Carolina civic leaders who see the need for transformational school leadership. The third cohort will double in size.
“We recognize that the Charleston community and the state of South Carolina need educators who are specifically trained, developed, and incubated to lead high-performing, high-need schools,” observes Ruszkowski. “There is a gap there, particularly in the training needed for the highest-need and most under-served communities. This is why our partnership is evolving to meet the needs of students and schools in the education sector writ large.”
Our partnership, currently in its second year, requires participants to show demonstrated gains in student learning over the course of the year. This is integral to developing transformational leadership skills—and it is central to the New Leaders approach.
“I can see Ruszkowski’s vision to expand across the state of South Carolina,” notes Terry Brown, Senior Director, Program Implementation at New Leaders. “It motivates us.” Our partnership, currently in its second year, requires participants to show demonstrated gains in student learning over the course of the year. This is integral to developing transformational leadership skills—and it is central to the New Leaders approach.
National trends show that strong teachers are often thrust into leadership positions without quality training, which often handicaps their ability to lead their colleagues to similar success. Here’s how the Aspiring School Leaders Collaborative in South Carolina is different:
Data analysis to drive instructional shifts
Analyzing short-cycle data and creating action steps based on that data are critical leadership practices. The difference, according to Janelle Browne, Program Director at New Leaders, who leads the sessions and provides 1:1 coaching for each participant, is that leaders need to understand that “when you look at a data set, it’s about the instructional changes that need to take place. It’s not just what the students did or did not learn.” This is the mindset shift participants make, followed by coaching their colleagues to adjust their teaching practices as a result of the data.
Browne has seen this shift in action many times as participants prepare for and engage in the often hard, but necessary conversations that have led to teachers raising expectations and significantly increasing the rigor of student learning activities. “Being able to change mindsets about the aptitude of students is at the core of our work,” adds Browne.
Opportunities to develop an effective team
Building the confidence to work alongside your peers, observe their practice, and develop a team does not happen overnight. It requires daily practice and self-reflection. Participants learn how to cultivate a shared vision, establish norms, and implement new tools like protocols for looking at student work. Through 1:1 coaching with Browne, participants also have opportunities to reflect on their team leadership, what worked well and what did not, and then problem solve and identify their next leadership moves.
Having the right tools and resources is also key to leading teams, adds Delores Brown, Associate Director, Program Operations and Production at New Leaders. Every year participants tell us that “they are using the tools and resources they gained from us to work with their teachers.”
A community of support to lean into
Grounded in adult learning theory, cohort-based learning like the Aspiring Leaders Collaborative in South Carolina facilitates collaboration, informal peer mentoring, and continuous improvement. Having a community of learners fosters trust and the kinds of safe and rich conversations and feedback that are necessary for leaders to internalize their learning. “You can see the energy they bring to each session and the relationships they are building,” notes Brown. “They’re deeply invested cohort-to-cohort.”
Last year’s participants didn’t want the leadership support to end so they met and collaborated with this year’s cohort—and plan to do the same for future cohorts. “This is their vision,” adds Browne. “In addition to the 1:1 coaching, this peer collaboration is something they appreciate.”
Ruszkowski is no stranger to system-level change. He partnered with New Leaders during his tenure as Secretary of Education in New Mexico and as Associate Secretary of Education for Delaware during President Obama’s signature Race to the Top initiative. “The reason I return to New Leaders as a partner,” adds Ruszkowski, “is because New Leaders has explored every facet, every angle, every nuance of school leadership. The expertise and proven practices give our partnership a solid foundation, with just enough customization to meet the needs of each specific context.”
“Being able to change mindsets about the aptitude of students is at the core of our work." - Browne
For Ruszkowski, the end goal is to challenge status quo practices in our education system that perpetuate unacceptable student outcomes. His vision for the Aspiring Leaders Collaborative in South Carolina is one way to disrupt that reality and develop teachers into transformational school leaders—like Lopes, Giles, and Preston—who believe that all children deserve the opportunity to achieve.