Successful School Leadership: A Conversation with an “America’s Best High Schools” Principal – Part 2 of 4
Last week, we introduced you to our blog series on successful school leadership and discussed leadership within a school. This week, we take a look at leadership as it relates to educating diverse groups of students.
Educating Diverse Groups of Students: Many school leaders work with populations that are increasingly diverse and may not be experiencing success in school. This includes children from low-income families or whose cultural backgrounds or characteristics fall outside of the mainstream. Evidence suggests that successful leaders of schools in highly diverse contexts focus their effort on five sets of tasks:
– Building powerful forms of teaching and learning.
– Creating strong communities in school and strengthening school culture.
– Expanding the proportion of students’ social capital valued by the schools.
– Nurturing the development of families’ educational cultures.
– Identifying and articulating a vision and building collaborative processes that foster open communication.
It goes without saying that leadership practices and the management of a school have a direct correlation on student culture and the expectation for students to achieve higher standards.
It is a challenging necessity to keep students engaged at any level, but in communicating with teenagers and trying to understand “the nature of the beast,” it becomes even more difficult to instill a love for learning in them. So how does University High School (UHS) manage to do so? UHS principal John Pehrson sums it up with the following: “I think we instill ‘it’s cool to be good at whatever you do.’ We celebrate accomplishments. We expect kids to behave and succeed in a certain way and kids respond accordingly. We honor strong character and deal with weak character in a dignified way. We initiate conversations and discussions on meaningful and higher level topics. We attempt to steer conversations and actions from ‘self’ to ‘others’.”
Galen Hunsicker, professor of zoology at Vanguard University for 20 years, and currently a science teacher at UHS, is no stranger to the tactics and necessary nurturing required to keep students engaged. When asked about the school’s student culture and how it contributes to higher standards, Hunsicker replied, “Just look at the fantastic spirit within the more than 100 clubs on campus! When teachers are completely valued within their respective disciplines, then naturally, they feel encouraged to explore new ways to teach concepts. When the administration models positive and creative leadership, so will teachers in the classroom. All of this funnels down to our precious students, who then will be encouraged to explore, to create, to analyze and think more critically. What follows will be greater willingness for students to own their success and reach for higher standards.”