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Leading Beyond School Boundaries: Expanding Leadership Impact

“Here is your homework for tonight, and I will collect it in class on Friday.”  

In the complexities of school design and transformation, this statement might appear insignificant. It is not.

As we think about how best to design our schools for student success, we must embrace a new way of thinking about access to learning.

Dr. Philip D. Lanoue
Dr. Philip D. Lanoue

That process starts by asking a few fundamental questions:

  • Where does learning occur?
  • Who and what influences learning?
  • How do we ensure relevancy of learning for each and every student?

When we start to ask deeper questions, the distinction between “schoolwork” and “homework” becomes obsolete.

The work students do is life encompassing. It cannot be defined by old-guard boundaries relative to time and place.

Rather, the new conversation is about learning, 24/7.

There’s a phrase, “the walls are tumbling down.” Few metaphors are more apt for what’s happening in schools today. More and more, students are turning to technology as a way to expand the pursuit of knowledge and understanding beyond the physical limits of the classroom.

But students cannot do this alone. School leaders need to do their part by changing the traditional learning schema and redefining their roles to work differently.

There is no separation between the support and contributions that students seek and receive in school and what they need and hope for at home.

For students to be successful, adults cannot define their support and contributions in terms of what students need in school, and what students need outside of school. Rather they need to think about how they can realistically impact student learning at any time, in any place.

This holistic brand of education  requires us to rethink the traditional roles we play in our local communities. The role of the superintendent as a community leader looks far different than the role of the superintendent as the district leader, for example.

Education researcher Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton aims to help us understand this:

A community leader’s job is not to take on all the problems of the world themselves and fix everything, but rather to work together with everyone in the community, to mobilize and guide others, to facilitate solutions and think about the long-term health of the community and its people.

Eaton defines the role of community leadership as those who:

  • Maximize individual strengths
  • Balance the needs of leadership
  • Work as a team
  • Mobilize others
  • Pitch in
  • Practice stewardship
  • Are accountable to the community
  • Think forward
  • Recruit and mentor new leaders
  • Walk beside and do not lead from above (paras. 3-19)

When the traditional structure of school expands to include the broader community, accountability shifts from finite measures like test scores and rankings and puts adults in a position to be truly responsible for student success.

Our local schools are at the heart of the democratic values of our communities. When schools struggle, communities struggle.

When school leaders assume leadership roles within their communities, community members:

  • Support students by not placing them in lanes and giving them choices
  • Empower students to navigate social perils
  • Engage in activities to activate student curiosity
  • Support the socio-emotional, physical and intellectual health of every student
  • Share knowledge and wisdom with students
  • See potential in every child
  • Model expected behaviors
  • Realize that educating all children is the heart of the community   

This sort of transformational thinking isn’t easy. It requires hard work and commitment on behalf of school leaders and their communities. But if we fail to change, too many students will fail to succeed when they leave school. Worse, the health and vibrancy of our communities will suffer, as will our future.

What steps are you taking to tear down traditional boundaries in your school or district? How does learning and opportunity extend beyond the four walls of the classroom? Tell us in the comments.