Women Empowering Women to Lead

Motivating other aspiring leaders, particularly women and teachers of color, to stretch beyond their role enables them to influence positive outcomes for more students, more teachers, and more communities.
Silhouettes of three women with arms around shoulders
3/23/21
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Does this sound familiar? We asked former principal and New Leaders alum, Brandy Reeves, to reflect on the role of other women leaders in her education career. Like Reeves, leaders are naturally drawn to other leaders. We see innate leadership in the educators around us and we want to encourage and support their growth as future leaders.

There is no time like the present to empower more women to lead. Across the country, school systems are led predominantly by men. Only 27 percent of superintendents are women, with a much smaller percentage identifying as leaders of color. Yet, the vast majority of public-school educators are women (76 percent), with only 20 percent identifying as teachers of color.

Motivating other aspiring leaders, particularly women and teachers of color, to stretch beyond their role enables them to influence positive outcomes for more students, more teachers, and more communities. This is especially true when Black and brown girls see themselves in their school leaders. They watch these women challenge negative stereotypes, replace inequitable systems, and build learning environments rooted in respect, high expectations, and inclusivity. That kind of leadership benefits white students too.

Leadership—and representation—matter at every level. Empowering other women to move into leadership roles has a magnifying impact on adults and students alike. Here’s what the research says about the power of strong teacher leaders, principals, and principal supervisors:

Teacher leaders. With training and job-embedded supports, teacher leaders have been found to immediately boost student learning in their schools. Our research shows that participants in our programming quickly developed and applied core leadership skills—leading teacher teams, driving data-driven instruction, engaging in reflective practice and continuous improvement. They learned to translate their classroom practices into a shared vision and action plans that accelerated learning in multiple classrooms beyond their own. Well-prepared teacher leaders create stability and a ready source of qualified leaders to step into future leadership roles.

As education leaders, we cannot afford to let this potential go unnoticed. Is there a friend, staff member or colleague you can tap and encourage her to explore a teacher leadership role?

Principals. New findings from The Wallace Foundation affirm what we know to be true about the positive and lasting impact of principals. Strong principals generate close to three months of additional learning for students in both reading and math annually. Our research confirms that in schools with great leaders, teachers are happier, more fulfilled, and more effective. Students believe they are capable of reaching their dreams. This impact is amplified for students of color who attend schools led by principals who reflect their racial identity. Outcomes include greater representation in gifted programs and an increased likelihood of pursuing college.  

The drive to be a principal is like no other. More and more women have taken the helm in the past twenty years, increasing from 44 to 54 percent women principals. Do you see that same conviction in other women? Can you encourage them to pursue their leadership aspirations?

Principal Supervisors. Strong instructional leadership and an equity mindset are two of the most critical factors in generating system-wide gains in learning and teaching. Coaching multiple principals across a district, principal supervisors are redefining their roles to zero in on improving student outcomes by improving principal effectiveness. Their work is uniquely positioned to develop system-wide coherence, raise expectations and performance of leaders, and advance instructional excellence and equity at scale.

Principal supervisors draw out the best in principals, who in turn draw out the best in their teachers and students. As with principal pipelines that have increased access for women and narrowed the gender gap, strong investments in system leadership pipelines can help move the needle on female representation within the highest levels of education leadership.

Encouraging the natural leadership we see in our colleagues or brainstorming with our best ed-reform girlfriends can be relatively easy (and fun). Breaking down structural and institutional barriers to student achievement and gender and racial equality is hard. It can be taxing for even the most dedicated and resilient leaders. That’s why we need communities of like-minded, equity-focused leaders to hold us up. We need each other. And we need more of us too.

As Women’s History month draws to a close, look around and empower another woman—teacher, assistant principal, principal—to lead in new ways.

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