How Educational Leaders Can Help Build a Collaborative and Inclusive School Culture

The Collaborative Planning for Project Based Learning initiative brought teachers together to create curricular plans that used service-learning projects to engage students, develop performance-based assessments and vertically align K-8 academic rigor. The educators at San Francisco Community School (SFC), who introduced the project, are widely known for their school culture and its impact on teachers and students.

Collaborative school cultures, like that of SFC, result in better student performance and outcomes, greater teacher satisfaction and safer, more inclusive spaces in which students can grow. School leaders can turn to collaborative leadership models that include administrators and faculty, innovative community and family engagement strategies and project-based curricular designs to create a culture of collective excellence in their schools.

Collaborative Leadership

Principal and district leader Dr. Matthew Joseph writes in an eSchoolNews article that he defines collaborative leadership as “the presence of opportunities for shared leadership, educator ownership, and sharing of instructional and pedagogical ideas.” Also referred to as “distributed or collective leadership,” this approach allows school leaders and teachers to work together to determine the best instructional practices for their students.

According to the Wing Institute, collaborative leadership is most successful when educators share both formal and informal responsibilities based on patterns of expertise. As part of the SFC initiative, teachers met periodically throughout the summer and winter to craft the learning trajectories of not only their individual grade levels but also the whole school.

Shared leadership models can have a variety of positive outcomes for faculty retention. When teachers are empowered to become leaders in their schools, they are encouraged to stay abreast of current pedagogical research and hone their skills. As a result, they both improve as teachers and report higher job satisfaction and enhanced efficacy.

Community and Family Engagement

Faculty members alone cannot create this school climate, however. According to the National Association for Elementary School Principals (NAESP), “stronger partnerships and collaboration between schools and communities improve family engagement, which is critical to bridging home and school cultures. Additionally, these partnerships increase the sense of trust between students, families, and schools, which in turn improves student connectedness to school and feelings of inclusiveness.”

The NAESP recommends school leaders create innovative methods for connecting to families as well as the broader community. For example, events, forums and partnerships with community members can contribute to a more collaborative, inclusive school culture beyond campus.

This support is particularly important for fostering a sense of inclusivity for students from marginalized backgrounds. Many families need their school and community to help students succeed.

Student Empowerment

One of the many ways school leaders can connect with the broader community is through project-based learning. SFC, for example, utilized project-based learning to enhance student engagement, create opportunities for students to learn in practical settings and connect students with the communities in which they live.

Another benefit of project-based learning is the way it empowers students to be co-collaborators in their education. When students contribute to society by solving problems and learning about the world around them, they are encouraged to use their voices and shape their learning experiences. For many educators, the most worthwhile experience is witnessing a student accomplish a goal they did not think they could.

Besides project-based learning, American Progress suggests a wide variety of other methods of engaging students as educational collaborators. Student surveys, student-led decision-making bodies, student journalism and student-led conferences are just a few ways students can build a collaborative school environment.

Educational leaders are at the center of their schools. Their approaches to leadership, community engagement and student empowerment are vital to school and student development. To improve student learning outcomes and aid in faculty retention, school leaders must prioritize exchanging of ideas and responsibilities across their schools. They cannot, and should not, have to do it alone.

Learn more about William Paterson University’s online Master of Education in Educational Leadership program.

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