Last week, I had the honor of listening to some of the nation’s most dedicated teachers and leaders at the Blue Ribbon Schools Program Awards Ceremony. The Blue Ribbon Schools Program was the brainchild of the second Secretary of Education, Terrel H. Bell, in whose honor there is also a National Distinguished Principals Award.
The Washington Teacher Ambassador Fellows were invited to facilitate discussions among Blue Ribbon principals, teachers, and representatives around topics deeply important to school success. We also led an insightful conversation with Terrel H. Bell Award winning principals about school leadership. I asked the first question, “What’s your secret?”
“Focus on what’s best for kids,” all principals said in various ways. “Tenacious child-centered decision making,” another offered. Principals spoke about finding ways to bring on board competent team players, empowering them to make decisions, and supporting them with ongoing, targeted professional development. One principal said, “I surround myself with the best and the brightest and get out of their way.” Another spoke about knowing the strengths and expertise of teachers and trusting them. These principals reminded me of my own principal back home and the type of dynamic leadership that is necessary in every public school.
My takeaway: Successful school leaders know they cannot lead by themselves. They employ a distributed leadership model in their schools where teachers hold meaningful decision-making roles with a shared-vision of high expectations. They restructure schools and roles to meet student needs, always making “student achievement the priority.” It looks different in each school, but across the country, high achieving schools have leaders that don’t need to be at the school for the school to run.
Edit Khachatryan is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow and social science teacher on loan from Clark Magnet High School, a 2006 Blue Ribbon Schools Award recipient, in Glendale, CA.