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System Leadership in Action

Leaders can best influence school district results by defining goals and executing strategies that focus on what matters most. A strategic focus creates clarity, improves collaboration, increases commitment and promotes accountability for outcomes that have the most significant impact on closing student achievement gaps.

However, this presents a daunting challenge for school leaders, as research shows that if an organization focuses on more than three goals at a time, few if any will be attained. Five questions have proven instrumental for school districts in defining goals and strategies that build capacity to achieve desired results:

  1. What is the compelling vision that defines what our school district strives to attain?
  2. Which priorities are believed to have the greatest impact on closing student achievement gaps?
  3. Are we leveraging the strengths and removing the constraints of our district-wide systems?
  4. Do we have clear, short-term actionable steps that drive implementation?
  5. How should we monitor and communicate progress on a frequent basis using leading indicators of success?

Improvement of school systems takes form when we create a common vision and develop common language that engages all staff in highly effective, evidence-based practices. Agreed-upon outcomes, high-leverage actions and multiple levels of formative feedback drive continuous improvement of district-wide systems.

The first step to improving district systems is to clearly define the important goals that lead long-term efforts for closing student achievement gaps. Shifting district culture to focus on the relentless pursuit of a common, audacious goal may be the greatest challenge of any district leader. To achieve this outcome, structures need to be established that engage staff in the design, implementation and refinement of action plans focused on improving student support systems. Processes need to engage staff in the relentless pursuit of evidence to cultivate a high-performing culture.

Leading implementation becomes less of a challenge when structures and processes are considered key elements for continuous improvement of practices. This implies that effective implementation is reliant upon embedding formative feedback within structures and processes to inform the use of new practices and monitor the attainment of desired results. The key is to continually assess implementation and impact of new practices by keeping two questions at the forefront: What do we need to do better, today? What is the evidence of our impact?

To be successful, systems leaders must promote three fundamental shifts: a shift from a compliance orientation to that of internal capacity building; a shift from seeking single solutions to leading systems change; and a shift from short-term strategies reliant on staff reactions and prescribed learning to long-term outcomes driven by a few compelling goals and a culture of continuous improvement.

InnovateEd is committed to being at the leading edge of developing systems leadership in education. Our goal is to keep leaders up to date on successful practices and connect them with school districts that are leading the way.

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