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Teacher, Principal Leadership Provide a Path for Youth to Create a Good Life

Project Unify & Special Olympics Blaze a Pathway

In July, I was fortunate to work with teacher leaders, volunteers, youth, and principals at the 2010 Special Olympic National Education Conference with the Special Olympics National Games in Nebraska sponsored by the University of Nebraska at Omaha. During the conference, Teacher and School Leaders plus volunteers – many were educators or community leaders — and all learned about school climate and the importance of leadership; enhancing the school culture so all youth work and learn in supportive school and community environments.

The Special Olympics National Education Conference engaged teachers, principals, and youth from across the country with university faculty, national education and social leaders to examine how Special Olympics Project UNIFY supports youth engagement, a warm school climate and programs based on strategies to engage all youth in school and connect them with their community – so they learn and achieve more.

Topics that were part of the conference; consistent with the principles of equity, justice and effective teaching and learning – They are listed here:
  • Classroom Climate (consistent manifestation of values and habits that create quality teaching and learning environments)
  • Youth Engagement (effective strategies to engage students in education and leadership activities)
  • 40 Developmental Assets (focus on all students’ gifts, talents and capabilities)
  • School and Community Collaborations (maximizing community contributions to quality education experiences)
  • Social Justice (an movement towards a community based on human rights and equality)
  • Physical Activity for Children of All Abilities (use of sports to strengthen bonds between all youth in schools)
  • Assessment (effective practices to assess all students)
Previously, I wrote that 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 all students learn best in an engaged school setting, than nothing else really matters.

We learned from teacher and building leaders new components of essential leadership skills and dispositions that improve all youth’s experiences and learning in schools:
  • Teacher and School leaders know what change is and have experienced it at some point. They understand the difference between change and just a shift. They are willing to own the change and the possibility of the change not having the desired outcome.
  • Teacher and School Leaders know how to gently move others forward and aren't afraid to celebrate success in those around them. They leave egos at the door and understand that success for one generally reflects well on all around.
  • Teacher and School Leaders know how to be discreet and understand confidentiality. Sometimes it is necessary to share things with those considered leaders and there is an element of trust that it won't be repeated.
  • Teacher and School Leaders see the big picture, not just day to day. They understand that while they may not completely understand the task at hand, they certainly are willing to move forward, trusting there is a greater plan.
  • Teacher and School Leaders put all youth and all children needs first, not adult needs and aren't afraid to say this to those around them.
  • Teacher and School Leaders realize that ports can be an effective activity to engage all students to understand how to incorporate diverse talents, the benefits of teamwork and the joy of physical exercise.
  • Project UNIFY can be a tipping point for school culture and climate as young people with and without intellectual disability collaborate with school and classroom and school leaders as architects of their community values and norms - schools that have strong engaged cultures focused on achievement, learning, mutual respect and collaboration have higher achievement levels, are more inclusive and welcoming for all students, safe and places adults and youth want to be a part of – the overall goal of every school leader.

Below is a great video from showing more of what we learned in Nebraska with Special Olympics and Project Unify:

Teachers and principals at the National Education Conference share a commitment to promote a vision of ending prejudice and creating schools and communities of acceptance for all – a shift to schools that engage students more around learning and programming that include better relationships and community building – championing social justice in our society. School leaders know this is a platform for better lives for our students and the communities they serve.

All of us who are working to improve schools – making the education more relevant, challenging and rigorous for students know that principals and teacher leaders working in partnership with youth and their families will make this a priority for everyone’s future. These district and school leaders live the belief that we move beyond ourselves to model the change and core value of opportunity for all youth and children – what we wish to see in the world or better yet, the school, district and community.

Find out more about Project Unify and how it can improve schools here: http://www.specialolympics.org/projectunify.aspx

You can contact William Hughes at bill.hughes@cascadeeducationalconsultants.com   

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