In the months since launching our school and district pilot program, the Kiddom team has collectively spent thousands of hours meeting with administrators to better understand their workflows, facilitate contextualized staff workshops, and support ongoing partnerships. Our goal? To build Kiddom Academy, a platform that allows every stakeholder in a school community to be connected and informed to drive student achievement.
We’ve learned so much from these passionate educators about what makes a school leader successful in driving achievement, and which qualities act as barriers to school success. With the goal of helping school leaders reflect and refine their practices, we’ve distilled our learning into three model administrator profiles — and two not-so-great ones. We share these learnings not to pass judgement, but in the hope of supporting the needs of teachers and students everywhere.
Our strongest partnerships with the greatest teacher engagement to drive student mastery all stemmed from leaders who fit a combination of these three profiles:
These leaders understand their staff strengths and growth areas, and leverage strong relationships. Empathizers frequently check the ‘temperature’ of their staff to ensure a balanced workload and plan responsive professional development. In our partnerships, these leaders carefully select education technology tools that leverage the skill sets that individual teachers and teams are developing rather than add another layer of work to busy teacher days.
Visionary leaders set aspirational goals for their teams and communicate them clearly. Because visionaries understand that large scale change doesn’t happen overnight, they plan intentionally for incremental steps towards a larger objective and set aside time for reflection to refine — sometimes over the course of several school years. Many of these leaders choose to pilot tools with small groups of teachers, distill learnings, and then use exemplar artifacts from within the school community to bring new strategies to life for the whole school community. These leaders react to failure with coaching and reflective data analysis rather than negative consequences.
In some of our partnerships, administrators met with us for only a few minutes before seamlessly handing off partnership responsibilities to teacher leaders. While this might seem like an overly hands-off approach, we often found that this staff development strategy led to increased buy-in from teachers and a quicker onboarding process. Principals are not just instructional coaches, but also CFOs, public relations managers, and human resources reps. They simply can’t do it all alone, which is why it’s smart to grow your capacity by building leadership skills in staff. This plan can also prevent staff turnover and foster more collaborative relationships between team members.
Unfortunately, not every school has had the opportunity to bring new tools to their teams due to constraints on time, money, and other factors. Many of the principals we’ve met along the way have had lofty goals for their schools, but struggled to implement them with unsuccessful leadership styles. Here are some models to avoid.
On occasion, we meet with an administrator who makes decisions swiftly and unilaterally, without regard for the current staff skill or student mastery levels. In professional development workshops at these kinds of schools, we heard teachers talking fearfully about what their administrators would be able to see in their accounts, and compliance-based worries about completion of tasks rather than real learning. The key difference between the authoritarian and the visionary was a lack of support for teachers to reach the mandated goals and the punitive consequences for not doing so.
The Impulse Shopper
There are a lot of edtech products out there with convincing sales pitches using trendy buzzwords. We have met principals who go for sparkle over function and fit, and choose separate software to solve every problem facing the school community. Adding tool after tool on top of standard teacher responsibilities causes a whole host of problems. Teachers don’t have time to learn the logistics of each one, and then abandon them, which means wasting precious school funds. Student data becomes fragmented and can become difficult to use in meaningful interventions. When tools are purchased based on marketing materials, they don’t necessarily align to long-term school goals; every year becomes another swing of the pendulum for staff — leading to change fatigue.
The Bottom Line
We share these learnings not to put anyone down, but to share what we’ve had the privilege to witness at schools around the country. We hope that these lessons help school administrators reflect on their leadership style and better support their teachers and students. Based on these experiences, we’ve built Kiddom Academy for schools and districts to include actionable, aggregate data and curriculum controls to help administrators coach, plan, empower, and experiment with intention. Plus, ongoing partnerships with our experienced success team means contextualized support and intentional planning throughout the year.