School Leadership: Part 2- Toxic School Crackdown

Syeita Rhey-Fisher
Syeita is a teacher, author, writer and advocate for educational equity.

Sep 09,2016

A Look Back 

Do you remember from School Leadership: Part 1 how toxic the leadership style from example 1 was to its school culture and student success? Here is a quick recap:

  • Leader followed a closed-door policy
  • Lack of communication
  • No professional development or ongoing support for directives
  • Leader not visible (absent + never visited classrooms)
  • No self-accountability (blamed all other stakeholders)
  • Inconsistent consequences
  • No teacher voice
  • Encouraged competition over collaboration
  • Student scores significantly decreased despite newer building and more resources

Were you able to pick out all of the toxic cues? Yes, a frightening display of leadership. I have undergone leadership training from AmeriCorp, Leadership Immersion programs, national educational conferences and through the traditional university route. In doing this, I have had the opportunity to study various leadership methods, theories and practices from several different entities. None of them prepare you to lead with the type of leadership style described above. It leads you to wonder… What kind of administrative certification training did they receive? Perhaps these leaders are operating under outdated practices. Do they even like their field? Whatever the reason, they are toxic!

Toxic School Crackdown

So how do we improve a toxic school such as this one? Well, we need to implement a crackdown. First you need to decide whether or not this leader needs to be immediately dismissed and start fresh or be retrained. For the purposes of this article, I am going to proceed with the dismissal of the toxic school leader (hence crackdown).

The most compelling argument for the removal of a toxic school leader is the amount of harm already suffered by students. Dr. Raj Chetty’s study revealed that “a single year in a classroom with a grossly ineffective teacher costs students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom.” So, imagine an entire school of ineffective teachers. When a school’s harmful culture and poor leadership interferes with a teacher’s ability to be effective, the effects have long-term implications for students.

There have been a few school improvement components that have been a reoccurring theme throughout my readings, trainings, leadership conferences and experiences in one form or another.  Once the old administration is out, these are the 5 necessary elements needed to improve the school:

  1. A Unified Vision: This is extremely important and truly applies to leadership in general. You must create a unified vision in collaboration with all stakeholders. This will increase stakeholder’s buy-in and ownership in the school’s vision. Once the vision is finalized, the school can align all of their procedures, policies and practices to it.
  2. Collaboration: All stakeholders work cooperatively to improve the school. A team consisting of all stakeholders (such as a school improvement team or a school governance council) should be voted in and convened so that everyone has a voice and input.
  3. Ongoing Professional Development: There should be continuous learning throughout the school year and beyond for administration and staff. Staff training should be centered on school procedures and quality teaching. These professional developments should include training to support educators at various levels, classroom visits, the sharing of best practices and how to differentiate instruction for all learners.
  4. Accountability: Leadership must guarantee that teachers, students, parents and the rest of the school community are held responsible for student learning and achievement. This can be done through the collection and analyzing of data such as climate surveys and student formative and summative assessment scores. This data should inform instruction.
  5. Transparency: publicly communicate results of all data and progress towards school improvements frequently. Allow feedback and input from all stakeholders so that adjustments can be made.

All staff have an important role in the improvement of the school and the achievement of students. This is why leadership that promotes collaboration (as supposed to a dictatorship) with all stakeholders through these 5 elements work. In the book, “Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools,” school leadership is described as not solely being administration or the principal. It is described as being a “circle of leadership” which includes “not only the principal but also instructional coaches, department chairs, lead teachers, teachers, and any other staff.” 

With the implementation of all 5 elements above through a collaborative effort from ALL staff, the numerous issues from leadership example 1 will be addressed. But more importantly, a safe learning environment will allow students to be successful and demonstrate sustainable achievement.


Other articles by this author