Guest post by Doug Crowley

As a principal, an assistant principal, or a director at a district office, leadership is sort of “there” for your taking; you are viewed as a leader by virtue of your title. At DeForest Area High School in Wisconsin, our “titled” leaders work hard to create a culture where staff and students feel comfortable and, dare say, entitled to find ways to lead. How can school leaders create this same culture of leadership and encourage their staff and students to take the lead?

 Trust Building

The first step in creating a culture of leadership is building trust with staff and students. Trust takes time and is not developed overnight. One of the key ways our administrative team fosters trust is by allowing staff and students to take risks and try new things even if they fail. It may take repeated encouragement to let them know that you are OK if they move forward and do something. By building trust, you are creating a safe environment for teachers to express their ideas, think creatively about new approaches to problems, and take professional risks.

Numbers Don’t Lie

Another way to promote leadership is to involve your staff in analyzing your school’s data. Instead of just hearing your analysis of the data, get your teachers involved so that they can see the areas that need attention. Use part of every staff meeting to share important school data. When teachers see the data trends, they understand when a problem needs a solution. For instance, when our staff examined our academic and discipline data, it determined that the data was disproportionate within various subsections. In response, our staff created a Cultural Diversity Committee (CDC) to first identify where the gaps fell, what were our options to try to improve them, and then what to do.

Uneven Growth

When empowering others to become leaders, it is important to know that growth happens in spurts. The CDC group wanted to make changes quickly and to start working with students on culturally sensitivity, but the group soon realized that it needed to adjust its thinking. Instead of focusing on students, the group’s first goal changed to training all staff members in culturally sensitive practices. CDC leaders shared classroom inclusion strategies with the staff, asked students to share their stories in a panel discussion, and continued to gather data. It takes time for emerging leaders to gain confidence, test ideas, and try out solutions. Now the CDC members are leading two book studies, have dedicated time in each staff meeting for a report, and have started to stretch their arms around other buildings in the district to develop teacher leaders at each level.

Empowering Students to Lead

What about our students? Our students need opportunities to find a passion, find a voice, and find solutions. At DeForest Area High School, we try to cultivate student leadership in a number of ways. We have dedicated leaders like any high school: the class presidents, the club leaders, the Student Council. But our student leadership doesn’t end there. Taking a cue from our CDC, three students from last year’s discussion panel came forward wanting to take action and discuss “real world” topics impacting them. With the help of an advisor, Ms. Alex Garcia, they formed a group called the Ethnic Student Union with a mission to include all students and help voice their concerns and ideas about school.

What are your experiences with empowering students and staff to lead? How do you build a culture of leadership in your school?

Doug Crowley is an assistant principal at DeForest Area High School in DeForest, WI. He is the 2017 Wisconsin Assistant Principal of the Year.



About the Author

Doug Crowley is an assistant principal at DeForest Area High School in DeForest, WI. He is the 2017 Wisconsin Assistant Principal of the Year.


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