STRATEGY: Create relationships and open communication strategies with the community to ensure political viability into the future.
Effective leadership requires the ability to engage stakeholders effectively by building and managing relationships. A strong relational foundation acknowledges the interdependence among a diversity of stakeholders and is essential for sustainable success. By bridging the gap even among those with opposing views, consensus can be reached so that individuals and the school benefit. Furthermore, working with the community can strengthen long-term buy-in and support for education initiatives and can reveal opportunities for additional resources to enhance these initiatives.
Effective school and district leaders understand the need to collaborate with those in their schools and districts; they understand that a team of thoughtful, focused educators is far more effective than singular efforts. As Kenneth Leithwood and Carolyn Riehl wrote in their January 2003 issue brief “What We Know About Successful School Leadership,” “Educational leaders enhance the performance of their schools by providing opportunities for their staff to participate in decision-making about issues that affect them and for which their knowledge is crucial.”
But it can’t stop with those inside the school or district. Leithwood and Riehl continue: “Because people base their actions on how people understand things, educational leaders help to create shared meanings and understandings to support the school’s vision. School legitimacy and effectiveness are enhanced when both internal members and the broader community share clear understandings about students, learning, and school.” Effective education leaders engage with a variety of people in and outside the school or district; they form relationships and create the necessary conditions to bring others along with them. The Leithwood and Riehl brief and other research support the values of team building, consensus building, and other relationship-focused activities to achieve improved student achievement.
Some fifty-five years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote about achieving the “beloved community”; his core belief was that increasing cooperation among allies and even winning the friendship of opponents would make it possible to live and work together productively. Leaders who can reach this understanding benefit tremendously, as connection with stakeholders results in stronger engagement with the organization (or school or district) and greater productivity and sustainability. Inclusiveness is a key component to sustainable growth.
First Steps to Consider
- Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of existing relationships with those inside and outside the school or district. Work with the school or district leadership team to determine what is the root cause of weak or ineffective relationships.
- Assess existing capabilities, conditions, and processes related to relationship building and outreach. Using that assessment, determine what can be done to improve relationships and communication with school and district stakeholders.
- Conduct a self-assessment of the skills and knowledge needed at the school or district level to implement an effective outreach and communication plan. What is missing to reach that effectiveness?
- Invite stakeholders to participate in school-based team-building and consensus-building opportunities. Offer monthly community chats about relevant and important topics.
Complexities & Pitfalls
As Patsy Johnson wrote in her paper “Conflict and the School Leader: Expert or Novice,” some “school leaders have developed a healthy other-centered perspective of running their schools,” while others “employ knowledge and skill gained to support only self-survival in the principalship, which will lead to personal and professional disappointment.” Both school and district leaders without that “other-centered perspective”—without help from others—will be challenged in creating value, overcoming obstacles, and sustaining the work. Any work focused on communication and relationship building will be impossible if the organization’s culture is one of siloes—and any change in that culture has to start with the leader. Until internal and external stakeholders establish an effective communication loop, mutually beneficial relationships will not exist, and stakeholders will fall away.
- What capabilities, conditions, and processes already exist that support community relationship building and communication? What skills need to be built to make this work even more effective? What needs to be eliminated?
- Which communication processes have been used to move the organization forward?
- What community relational activities are currently implemented at the school (team building, consensus building, culturally relevant topics, social gatherings, etc.)?
- How often is there communication among stakeholders, and what modes are used?
- Who are the school’s community partners?