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Building Teacher, Youth and Parent/Citizen Leadership Focused on Student Learning and Engagement in their School – So Student Learn More!

Recognizing leadership capacity and a disposition towards student learning, youth voice, and engagement in school is a primary responsibility of District and school leaders -- if they are focused on student learning and engaging youth with adults in the school setting -- so the students want to work harder and learn more.

I believe District and school leaders will be more effective if they work with teacher and parent leaders instead of going it alone. If the school or district leader does not believe this in their core that students learn best in an engaged and social justice school setting, than nothing else really matters.

Throughout the winter and now early spring in Wisconsin, I have been reading "Leading for Social Justice – Transforming Schools for all Learners" In the Greendale Schools, our leadership team is working to apply the concepts in this 2007 book, written by Elise Frattura of UW-Milwaukee and Colleen Capper of UW-Madison in our schools. Their work as applied to improving schools for youth remind me how important it is for leaders to have the knowledge, confidence, and skills to understand that ones leadership may best be judged by the leadership capacity and focus they build in others (teacher, parent and citizen leaders and students?) with a relentless attention on student learning and connection to their school than their own individual accomplishments.

Teacher and parent/citizen leadership is a cornerstone of those who lead with an eye on collaboration and developing relationships between adults an youth in the school. They do so to motivate youth to engage at a high level of learning, service and achievement. Collaboration – the ability to have hard conversations, talk and implement strategies and methods build teacher capacity so the teachers can meet the needs of the wide range of students in their classrooms.

The effective school and district leader look for teachers and parents who are pleasant, hardworking, willing to collaborate and co-plan instruction or programs that link parents and teachers with youth in the school. These leaders are open to discussions, able to self reflect and be comfortable with students and parents including those with challenging behaviors and attitudes and needs. Acknowledging that everyone can lead and contribute.

These teacher, youth and parent/citizen leaders are influentials and opinion leaders in your school or community. Roughly 1 in 10 of the adult population in the U.S. is considered influentils. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in 2002, making ideas stick with the “right” people, one can shape the course of change in a school or community. Simply by finding and reaching those special few people, who hold so much social power, a good leader can shape the course of the change in the school culture. With the slightest push, Gladwell writes in The Tipping Point, in just the right place, it can be tipped.”

Groups of Influentials are not opinion leaders on every issue – seeing that is part of the art of leadership. They are:
  • Role Models
  • Technical Experts
  • Power People
  • Cheerleaders
  • Celebrities
These influentials -- in the case of this work -- teacher and parent leaders - share a set of common characteristics that are easily identifiable by a savvy leader.

They have the capacity to persuade others.
May enjoy informal position and status
They get around your community
They have credibility, have taken heat and been successful.
They have earned and maintain status –without being arrogant or imposing.
They are activists – they have the ability to bring about change and able to abandon what is need to be left behind.

School and District leaders building teacher and parent/citizen leader capacity in the those who step up to leadership see the importance of having a team structure in place – that shares the decisions and the responsibility of the work. They know the process never ends. New students, faculty and parents join the school community each year. This is where the school and district leaders live the belief that we move beyond ourselves to model the change and core value of social justice we wish to see in the world or in our case, the school, district and community.

About the author: Dr. William Hughes has worked in education for  31 years as a teacher, principal, superintendent of schools. He has served as Superintendent of the Greendale School District in Greendale, Wisconsin for the past 14 years. Greendale is a garden community and one of three greenbelt communities in the United States. It is a suburban district of about 2,600 students located in the Milwaukee metro area; an area known for high achieving schools.  Greendale is known for its high level of student achievement with over 90 percent of graduates attending higher education institutions, ongoing community engagement on multiple levels, along with collaborative relationships with bargaining groups while retaining a focus on children, service, citizenship and learning. He is a former board member of the Milwaukee Area Technical College, a member of the National School Climate Council, board member of the National Center for Learning and Citizenship and adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

You can contact William Hughes at

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