Leadership skills are nebulous, hard-to-define, and critical for students’ futures. Yet, many schools and districts still have minimal programs—typically a student council—and tend to concentrate on the oldest grades. But a leadership program can begin much earlier.
In her edWebinar, “How to Fill the World with Leaders: Creating School Cultures Where Student Leadership Thrives,” leadership consultant Mariam G. MacGregor, M.S., not only explained how to integrate leadership lessons in preschool, but she also advocated for administrators to make a conscious effort to develop citizen leaders.
Related content: How to think like a leader
As with any school- or district-wide initiative, implementing a leadership program requires careful planning and communication.
1. Gather at your table. Yes, the first step is to gather all stakeholders: parents, educators, students, etc. But too often, said MacGregor, they hold separate meetings, and then someone tries to figure out how the different ideas could work together.
Instead, all groups should be represented at the brainstorming and planning sessions. There should be tons of conversation and noise when you’re starting out, said MacGregor. The culture should be a safe, trustworthy space where people feel comfortable sharing ideas. More important, as the team is brainstorming, it’s important to keep the conversation and not chase irrelevant goals.
2. Audit what you have right now. If the school leadership program stays the way it’s always been with a few cosmetic changes, then it’s not truly serving the entire community. You need to understand the positives and the drawbacks of current leadership education.
○ First, figure out what you already have that’s working well. Examine the people, the materials (rooms, time), and your relationships. This is the time to brag and make sure your team and your community know what’s going right.
○ Then, take a closer look at what’s getting in the way. Are the barriers related to people, resources, or even expectations? How clearly have your current program’s goals been communicated to all groups involved, and how closely are the program’s goals being followed?
3. Use empathy as part of your school leadership program design. Consider each stakeholder’s perspective and how your program may or may not serve them. For instance, many students have after-school jobs or need to take care of siblings, so school leadership programs that require large after-school commitments won’t work for them. Or, think about what other roles the teachers have already taken on and how much they can truly commit to a new program. Reality is recognizing that there is a current state where you’re at, what you can do, and taking it step by step and not prepping for the end right away.
4. Figure out where your stakeholders are with the proposed school leadership program and figure out how to talk through change with them. You need to recognize that stakeholders are all over the place with the leadership program. Some will embrace the new initiative, some will get on board once the trailblazers move forward, and others will hold back. Remember that change is a process, not an event. MacGregor suggested imagining as if you are starting from scratch. Instead of looking at leadership education as a whole, identify where the challenges are at each step, and develop a plan for addressing those specific issues.
5. Make a timeline that focuses on implementation and sustainability. Plan for the pilot of the program, full integration of the program, evaluation, and future iterations. “Make designing, achieving, and sustaining your leadership program reasonable and sustainable,” said MacGregor. Your stakeholders and their needs should determine the pace.
Most important, of course, is constant communication to all groups about expectations, successes, and areas for improvement. MacGregor reminded attendees to be truthful about everything—you will not be able to get everyone on board with the program and fulfill all their wishes.
“Ultimately when it comes to designing these programs, just remember you’re not a taco,” she said. “You can’t make everyone happy, and that is always a challenge.”
5 ways to develop a school leadership program
About the presenter
Mariam G. MacGregor, M.S. is Director of Employee Engagement and Organizational Strategy at TCU and a nationally recognized leadership consultant who works with schools (K–12 and higher education), nonprofit agencies, faith groups, and communities interested in developing meaningful, sustainable leadership efforts for kids, teens, and young adults. Mariam lived in Colorado for many years, where she served as the school counselor and coordinator of leadership programs at an alternative high school and received honorable mention for Counselor of the Year. She also worked with college student leaders at Syracuse University, Santa Clara University, Metropolitan State College of Denver, and Texas Christian University (TCU), and was the youth volunteer trainer for Night Lights (a respite care program that serves families of kids with special needs) and EPIC Mentors (a program started by one of her sons at his elementary school that pairs peer mentors with kids with learning challenges). She currently lives in Texas.
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This edWeb broadcast was sponsored by Free Spirit Publishing. The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.