Leadership is Making a Difference

When it comes to creating great neighborhood public schools, leadership makes a difference. Effective leadership, however, is not characterized by traditional models of top-down direction, governance by the elite few, or leadership in a vacuum. Instead, it is found in a shared commitment to student success and in the leadership and mutual accountability of parents, teachers, school administrators, students, policymakers, businesses and communities.

Leadership by parents and community members, for example, has been shown to improve school leadership, staffing and school facilities and to promote higher-quality programs, new resources for after-school programs, and programs to improve teaching and curricula (Henderson and Mapp, 2002). Teachers as leaders have enhanced teaching quality by leading school improvement efforts; building professional learning teams; mentoring newer teachers; and advocating for quality professional development, classroom observation and personal reflection (Berry, Johnson and Montgomery, 2005; Hirsh, 1997). Leadership by school administrators has converted low- or average-performing schools to high-performing schools by, among other actions, communicating a clear, shared and strategic vision for their schools; expecting and supporting decision-making by teachers; and building a culture of interdependency and accountability (The Southeast Center for Teaching Quality, 2002; Lambert, 2005). As emerging leaders, so-called “at-risk” youth have raised the bar on student achievement by serving as mentors, tutors and role models for younger students (IDRA, Coca Cola Valued Youth Program, see http://www.idra.org/coca-cola-valued-youth-program/). Public policy leaders have promoted equitable, excellent schools by pressing, not just for school accountability, but the funding and resources that make it possible.

Recognizing that each sector has a unique, essential role to play in making schools great and that diverse communities must be brought together to ensure success, IDRA has long stood for quality, interactive leadership, promoting and building programs, resources and supports that “keep the public in public schools” and secure success for all students. In recent months, through research, leadership development, policy analysis, and community engagement, these efforts have:

  • identified policies and practices to strengthen public education and to make higher education more accessible to all students;
  • amplified the voice of diverse community leadership;
  • built cross-sector networks that are essential for systems change; and
  • promoted technology access and innovation to support student, parent and community leadership.

A Snapshot of What IDRA is Doing

Conducting Research – IDRA has recently completed a first phase of work to develop a technology-based indicator system to support parent and family leadership in their neighborhood public schools. IDRA has laid the groundwork for this interactive system through its Academic and Community Collaborative Ensuring Student Success (ACCESS) project (funded by the Ford Foundation), and as a partner in the Making Connections Initiative in San Antonio (through the Annie E. Casey Foundation).

Developing Leaders – This spring, IDRA released The Ohtli Encuentro: Women of Color Share Pathways to Leadership, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. This compilation of stories and lessons learned from the Ohtli Encuentro, convened by IDRA in May 2004, gathers insights from 30 leaders – African American, Latina, and Native American women – deepening our understanding of leadership development (see article on leadership). The 12th Annual IDRA La Semana del Niño Early Childhood Educators Institute in April focused on leadership in early reading, providing bilingual workshops for parents and early childhood educators.

Informing Policy – IDRA’s InterAction: Higher Education and Latinos in the New Millennium, supported by Houston Endowment, Inc., culminated with a meeting in Austin to unveil policy reform solutions from university, community and school leaders to address persistent disparities in higher education. Also, IDRA supported policy leadership this spring by providing public education and expert testimony for proposed school funding plans. A summary and analysis of last session’s major proposals is available to the public at http://www.texans4fairfunding.org/assessment.asp.

Engaging Communities – For many years, IDRA has promoted a unique model of parent leadership and forged linkages between schools and their diverse community partners. IDRA’s TECNO (Technology-Enhanced Community Neighborhood Organizations) project, funded through the U.S. Department of Education, expands on this tradition, establishing six new computer centers in San Antonio’s Edgewood community in partnership with the Edgewood Independent School District, the Benitia Family Center, the Edgewood Family Network, the West Side YMCA, the YWCA, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation Making Connections – San Antonio project. In partnership with Arise, the TECNO model has also been a springboard for Youth Education Tekies, 13 youth who are building their leadership and technology skills to promote quality education in the lower Rio Grande Valley.

What You Can Do

Get informed: For a blueprint of leadership strategies for school administrators, see Challenges and Strategies for Principals of Low-Performing Schools, published by IDRA, at http://www.idra.org/resource-center/challenges-and-strategies-for-principals-of-low-performing-schools/. For a recent article on teacher leadership and decision-making, see http://www.idra.org/resource-center/rethinking-professional-development-as-a-tool-to-stimulate-teacheraes-decision-making-authority/. A listing of professional development resources offered by IDRA to expand school administrator and faculty leadership is available at: http://www.idra.org/content/view/22/413/. For a bibliography of articles on leadership characteristics that promote school improvement, see: http://www.sedl.org/change/leadership/references.html.

Get involved by building strong connections between your local public schools and community. To learn more about how school leaders can engage community members and how community, family and parent leadership and involvement can influence education quality, see A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement: Annual Synthesis, 2002, published by the Southwest Educational Development Laboratory at http://www.sedl.org/connections/resources/evidence.pdf.

For proven models of parent leadership training, visit the TEXAS IDRA Parent Information Resource Center (PIRC) online at http://www.idra.org/families-and-communities/. For professional development training on engaging diverse families and communities in education, see http://www.idra.org/services_to_educator/parent-involvement-and-leadership-development/.

Get results: Boost your leadership capacity and expand your impact by becoming active in professional organizations that make a difference – organizations like local, state or national associations for bilingual education (http://www.nabe.org/), the Public Education Network (http://www.publiceducation.org/), the Texas Latino Education Coalition (http://www.texans4fairfunding.org/about.asp), and the Coalition for Public Schools (http://www.coalition4publicschools.org/).

Flex your leadership in support of current policy initiatives that strengthen public education, access and equity. Promote policy recommendations developed by InterAction: Higher Education and Latinos in the New Millennium (online at http://www.idra.org/images/stories/interaction.pdf) that will expand higher education access to students in your region. Oppose divestment in public education by adding your name to the list of organizations that oppose school vouchers at http://www.texans4fairfunding.org/vouchers.asp (see voucher flier).

Additional resources are listed online at www.idra.org.

Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2005, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Every effort has been made to maintain the content in its original form. However, accompanying charts and graphs may not be provided here. To receive a copy of the original article by mail or fax, please fill out our information request and feedback form. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]