Helping School Leaders Practice Proactive Leadership
Moving from Reaction to Action
Putting out fires is arguably a key function of every school leader’s job. While reactive leadership like this may be unavoidable at times, a forward-thinking approach to leadership is essential to fostering real improvement in schools. What does a proactive leadership style entail? How can school leaders transition to a proactive leadership style? SchoolWorks’ ongoing partnership with the KIPP Foundation is designed with these ideas in mind.
Vision, Accountability, and Feedback
The KIPP Successor Prep Program trains rising successor principals. SchoolWorks leads sections of six sessions across the year-long program—which runs from January of the year before the cohort will become principals and continues through the following January—in order to guide participants to develop a strategic action plan and provide intentional, focused feedback on the implementation of that plan.
In this way, the program helps new principals start their first year with a laser focus on what will make the most meaningful change in their schools. With clarity and purpose along with a strong process, new principals can unite their teams around common goals, achieve those goals, and then replicate the process every year.
Participants often say that they particularly value the accountability that comes with having someone assign and check in on their work as they build and implement their plans. Planning toward big goals is undeniably important but easy to lose sight of amidst other issues that crop up every day for leaders. And the feedback does not stop there. In fact, what makes this program unique and incredibly beneficial is that SchoolWorks staff visit each school and give the leader feedback on the implementation of the plan. This ensures that the plan actually comes alive in the school—increasing the likelihood of achieving real results.
How It Works: Developing and Implementing the Improvement Plan
In the first session in January, participants begin by collecting and analyzing data. The goal of this stage is to assess the school’s current state based on a wide range of inputs, including achievement data, retention data, and parent survey data. This ensures that the plans participants develop are grounded in reality and focus on the elements that will make the most meaningful change at each school.
In March, school leaders use the data to identify their top priorities. The goal of this stage is to identify the most important area in which to invest the school’s limited resources (both time and budget). Since everything is important when you serve students, prioritization is not about determining what is important. Rather, prioritization is about determining what to do first in order to see the most meaningful progress and growth. Leaders learn to be intentional about making decisions about what to do and what not to do, ultimately understanding that if you prioritize everything, you prioritize nothing. In the same session, school leaders conduct root cause analysis in which they determine the specific problem that exists in this priority area and the reasons why the problem exists in the first place. Leaders then determine their “Big Rock” (or annual goal), which usually falls into one of the following categories: student achievement, student culture, or staff culture. Occasionally, a leader chooses a Big Rock in another area, such as data-driven culture.
In the June session, leaders articulate success measures, select strategies, and develop their action plans. A strategic plan is a leader’s long-term vision for the school. An action plan lays out the day-to-day actions and steps that operationalize the vision. In KIPP Successor Prep Program, the two types of plans become the First Year Strategic Action Plan (FYSAP), which involves both defining the vision and laying out the plan to make it happen. By early August, leaders finalize their FYSAPs with their leadership teams before sharing with the larger staff during summer professional development sessions.
Between September and December, SchoolWorks staff visit each participant’s school to see each FYSAP in action and give targeted feedback. The plan on paper matters, but the implementation matters even more. The implementation feedback is the most powerful aspect of the program and what really differentiates the support that KIPP successor principals receive. Because the visits happen in the first half of the school year, there is still time for leadership teams to adjust their plan and/or efforts, which vastly increases the probability that they will meet the end-of-year success measure(s).
Custom Programs for Your District
Using data to diagnose a school’s biggest challenges, developing a plan, and successfully implementing the plan are all hallmarks of a proactive leadership style. Such leaders keep their eyes on their big goals and drive toward them, ensuring that their schools see meaningful change every single year and serve students well.