Principal’s Leadership Expansion: Community Organizer/Activist & Social Architect of Learning

By Dr. Raymond R. Isola, co-author of Transforming Sanchez School: Shared Leadership, Equity, and Evidence

Implementing a shared leadership system implies an expanded set of roles for the school principal. The range of roles and initiatives I undertook as principal during the Sanchez School turnaround process include not only being an instructional leader and effective resource manager, but also becoming a social architect of learning and a community organizer and activist.

The significance of the first two of these roles is generally accepted, but far less attention has been paid to the importance of the latter two.

As resource manager, I was responsible for recruiting, hiring, assigning and supporting staff who were committed to educational equity, as well as augmenting funds through grants and partnerships, and making fiscal allocations in consultation with staff and parents.

I also was in charge of establishing and modeling interpersonal communication and behavior norms based on respect, responsibility, honesty and cooperation.

And as instructional leader, my responsibilities included establishing formative assessment structures and procedures based on cycles of teacher inquiry, contextualizing curriculum and assessment mandates within a culturally and linguistically responsive framework, and setting evidence-based instructional goals and priorities for student learning.

How can principals, who already are stretched thin, extend their roles to becoming community organizers and social architects of learning in addition to being instructional leaders and resource managers? Would this expectation increase the risk of burnout? Our experience at Sanchez School suggests that, although challenging, the development of strong school-community relationships can greatly facilitate instructional leadership and resource management.

The collaborative initiatives we undertook with community agencies and individuals relating to studentshealth and nutrition, green spaces and literacy engagement resulted in more effective classroom instruction and eased the pressure on limited budgetary resources.

One important way a school might apply shared leadership principles to extend school-community engagement is to designate a position on the schools leadership team for a parent/community liaison to coordinate and plan community outreach strategies.

If this is not possible, a shared responsibility can be arranged among existing staff members. If a parent/community liaison position does exist, it would be important to ensure that the focus of this position is aligned with key strategies used at the school to best serve students and families. Based on our experiences at Sanchez School with local school-community initiatives, we have identified common principles underlying successful community organization and collaboration.

They include:

  • Establishing common partnership norms based on high expectations that are aligned with student and family needs;
  • Sharing recognition of success and accountability for results;
  • Building on the diverse assets of families and the community; and
  • Encouraging innovative solutions to identified problems.

What successful strategies have you used in your school that embrace the principal’s role as a community organizer and activist?

How have you designed opportunities, as a social architect of learning, for the diverse voices of your school community to be included in the school improvement process?

Thank you in advance for taking time to engage in this dialogue and to share ideas about how we can best serve students, families and staff in schools across America.

*Portions of this text have been excerpted from Transforming Sanchez School: Shared Leadership, Equity, and Evidence.

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