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Beyond ESSER: Cultivating a Sustainable Pipeline of Internal Leaders for School Growth

school growth

The looming expiration of ESSER funds in September 2024 presents a pivotal moment for educational leaders. While these funds provided invaluable support for teacher development and student progress, their conclusion necessitates a strategic shift towards cultivating a sustainable model for school improvement. This model hinges on nurturing a robust internal leadership pipeline – one that leverages the untapped potential within our existing school communities.

Identifying Internal Leaders: The first step

A significant number of our teachers possess the skills and drive necessary to become impactful leaders. There are three key groups that can become the driving force behind long-term school growth:

  • Aspiring Leaders: These passionate teachers are the lifeblood of our schools. They demonstrate a deep commitment to driving positive change within their communities. They possess strong pedagogical skills and a demonstrably strong desire for greater responsibility. By identifying these educators through performance reviews or self-nominations, we can coach them through the development of targeted professional development workshops in tandem with feedback and mentorship. Teach these aspiring leaders how to reflect on school performance and use data to support school growth. Equipping them with the necessary expertise will allow them to take on leadership roles within departments or grade levels, fostering a sense of ownership and shared responsibility for student success. 

  • Peer Influencers: These individuals possess a natural ability to inspire and motivate colleagues. Often functioning as informal leaders within departmental or team structures, they guide and support their peers in improving instructional practices. Recognizing these influencers and harnessing their influence can significantly amplify the impact of professional learning communities (PLCs) and other collaborative structures. By creating opportunities for these educators to share best practices and mentor their peers, we can cultivate a culture of continuous learning and growth that permeates the entire school. I have a blog post that discusses the correlation between peer influencers and school culture and the impact of new initiatives, here. 

  • Professional Learning Communities (PLCs): PLCs provide fertile ground for cultivating leadership from the ground up. These collaborative groups engage in reflective dialogue, share best practices, and collectively address instructional challenges. They foster a culture of continuous improvement, providing a platform for educators to refine their skills and leadership abilities. By empowering PLCs to delve deeper into their inquiry cycles, analyze student data, and develop data-driven instructional strategies, we can cultivate leadership at the grassroots level. If PLC’s are not currently a productive space, that is something to reconsider!

Building a Sustainable Leadership Pipeline: The next step

Identifying internal leaders is just the first step. To cultivate a sustainable leadership pipeline, we need a multifaceted approach:

  1. Identification and Recognition: A proactive approach is necessary to identify educators who exhibit leadership qualities. Open dialogue acknowledging their potential and discussing opportunities for growth is crucial. This can certainly occur during debriefs and dedicated teacher feedback sessions. Instructional walkthrough data will also provide you with quantitative data to potential leaders.

  2. Role Definition and Support: Clearly defined roles and responsibilities for identified leaders, aligned with the school's strategic goals, are essential. Targeted support and resources (e.g., instructional coaching, leadership development programs) should be provided to empower them and ensure they possess the necessary tools for success.

  3. Fostering Collaboration: Cross-pollination of ideas and expertise among identified leaders should be encouraged. PLCs serve as a valuable platform for continuous professional growth and collaborative problem-solving.

Building an Internal Coaching Model

When leveraging education leaders from within, your school-community is simultaneously developing a sustainable coaching framework. This framework is unique to your school, takes a bottom-up approach, and leverages the expertise of identified leaders to continue instructional coaching work for 1. your teachers who are just getting started, or 2. need support in a specific skill or strategy.

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