Activity Guide

What kind of a leader are you? Effective leadership behaviors are necessary to maintain a culture of collaborative leadership and to establish a process for successful school change. The following assessment identifies current leadership standards needed to lead an effective school learning community. Schools that show significant improvement in student outcomes attribute this success to improved and distributed leadership. This assessment will help evaluate and confirm leadership strengths and areas of growth and offer improvement suggestions.


  • NASSP (2018). Afterward: Building Your Leadership. In Building ranks: A comprehensive framework for effective school leaders (pp. 222–224). Reston, VA: Author.

Group Activity I: Building Capacity

  • Think about a person you know whose leadership skills you admire. This person can have any position—teacher, principal, clerical worker—it doesn’t matter. What traits or behaviors does the person exhibit that make you appreciate their leadership skills?
  • List three or more of those traits. In pairs or teams, depending on the size of group with whom you are working, compare the traits you’ve identified with the ones listed by others. Take note of how many commonalities you find. Come to agreement on five or six traits that you think are most important. Are these traits more prevalent in Building Culture or Leading Learning? While the exact language may not be the same, consider the Building Ranks™ dimensions and align your traits with those dimensions. This will allow you to further explore the exemplary work of others in the field.
  • Debrief the conversation by asking each group to read its list and record the leadership characteristics on chart paper. Indicate by checks, hash marks, or some other notation when traits or behaviors are listed by more than one group.

Group Activity II: Increasing Capacity

Research shows that if leadership is to improve, leaders must increase capacity of knowledge in three areas: effective practices, skills, and attitudes. When considering Building Culture and Leading Learning, use the prompts provided to facilitate a discussion to build the team’s conceptual understanding of each of these areas as they relate to your school environment.

  • Knowledge. What is your knowledge of effective middle level and high school practices? Include learning styles, differentiated instruction, developmental appropriateness, and so on. How and where do we develop additional knowledge?
  • Skills. What can you do? What skills are necessary to effectively lead a school toward continuous improvement in this area? How and where do we develop skills?
  • Attitudes. Another description for attitudes is will and the disposition to do what is right. What do you know about your attitudes? How do you interact with people with different styles than yours? How and where do we develop or alter our attitudes?

Refer to the previously developed list and categorize the leadership traits as knowledge, skills, or attitudes. Looking at the data holistically, what does this tell you about where to focus your efforts? You may want to use Discussion Guide Planning Template B to further plan your improvement initiatives based on these three attributes.

Extend and Apply

The Leadership Dimension Priority Ranking template will assist you in reflecting on your leadership team’s strengths and areas of growth. Research on executive development supports the idea that individuals improve by building on their skill strengths. Effective development is contingent on an accurate diagnosis. To build on your strengths and capacity as a leader, you must diagnose your strengths and establish your professional development needs.

With the Building Ranks framework, NASSP has identified two domains and 15 dimensions that encompass how schools can prepare each member of the learning community for success. The domains and dimensions contained in this framework help school leaders commit to sustaining the overall culture of their schools.

Individual Assessment

Take the time to read the definition of each dimension and reflect on your current practice of the skill. Next, read the “what” and “why” statements of each dimension and reflect on your practice of that behavior and, starting with Step 1, rate yourself in priority order. Use that first step to identify which dimension reflects your work strongest. Continue assigning a priority number to all dimensions.

For purposes of this exercise, begin with the domain of Building Culture and look at your top three strengths. Think about how you might capitalize on those to enhance the work happening at your school. Analyze that data to begin to get a sense of your skill strengths. Look at the other dimensions and reflect on those areas on which you most need to focus. Prioritize these based on the needs at your school. Repeat this process for Leading Learning.

Assessment From Other Observers

*Note: The following activity requires vulnerability and trust on the part of the leader. You must be prepared to look at the data objectively and consider all information, positive and negative, as constructive feedback and areas of growth. Do not ask people to put their names on the rankings.

  • To confirm or challenge your own perceptions, distribute the Leadership Dimension Priority Ranking template and the “why” and “what” statements of the Building Ranks domains and dimensions to up to eight colleagues, peers, subordinates, and superiors to gather perceptive data about your skill strengths from others. Ask them to rank your leadership in priority order in both domains as you did in the above activity. The combination of ratings from yourself and others can provide you with useful data to help you reflect on your leadership skills.
  • Compile the data you received from the other observers with your self-assessment data. Think about those areas identified as strengths and decide how you might maximize those strengths to enhance the work happening at your school. Use Step 2 of the exercise, the Leadership Dimension/Priority Rationale template, to record your top three strengths. Once complete, use the same template to identify your top three areas of growth. Work through this sheet carefully, identifying the rationale. Wherever possible, include authentic evidence of how this will look at your school and in your practice.
  • Finally, track your progress and work through the identified areas by following Step 3, the Leadership Dimension Journey Log. Provide details and examples of all activities. Be honest and open to self-reflection and adjustment as needed. Don’t forget to celebrate when you feel you have experienced success!