Student Success Demands That We All Work Together
How Facilitative Leadership Can Make the Connection and Propel Outcomes
- By Chris Williams
This is a pivotal moment for education.
Three years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, administrators,
teachers, community stakeholders, and, most importantly, many
students are continuing to struggle.
Pandemic-related school disruptions
precipitated the most
significant drop in math and reading scores in
decades. At the same time, The Institute of Education Sciences’
School Pulse Survey found that an astonishing 87
percent of public schools reported negative social-emotional
development in the past two years.
Solving these complex problems will
require more than individual excellence. This moment calls for
skillful collaboration and leadership that results in positive
outcomes for teachers, staff, and students. In this context,
collaboration is not simply about learning to get along. It’s a
method for accessing innovation and optimizing performance across the
board. It starts at the top.
One tested method — focused on
facilitative leadership to involve and empower people to work
together to achieve a common goal using seven leadership practices
ranging from coaching to planning to celebrating — can help
academic communities support success and promote holistic outcomes.
The timing for this type of approach is especially important as
schools look to re-energize staff, restore trust, and find new ways
to support the changing needs of students in today’s post-pandemic
Here are five ways that school
administrators can deploy facilitative leadership practices in their
districts to support success for years to come.
1. Gain commitment and instill confidence by sharing an inspiring
and powerful vision of the future.
A clear vision will help motivate teams
to coalesce around strategies and initiatives that enhance education
delivery and student outcomes.
While schools face numerous academic
and student well-being challenges, establishing an inspiring vision
sets a clear direction forward. It’s uplifting, encouraging, and
directional, bringing intangible value and appreciation to people’s
day-to-day school operations and helping to boost teacher and staff
recruitment and retention.
Whether you’re leading an entire
district or a single school, casting a clear and compelling vision of
the future is the first step to guiding others toward greater
achievement and confidence.
2. Balance attention across three dimensions of success:
measurable results, effective processes, and trust-based
After casting a vision, administrators
will need to frame how performance and satisfaction will be measured
within their district, school, or PLC. For educators accustomed to a
results-oriented outlook, this can be uniquely challenging.
That’s why a framing around results,
processes, and relationships helps people think about success in a
multi-variable state. Instead of thinking about results in terms of
ultimate outcomes, leaders also encourage continuous improvement in
the process and how people treat each other. For example, teams can
sustain productivity and quality through:
How meetings are organized and run
How feedback is solicited and
How debating and disagreeing are
done in a productive and respectful way.
District administrators must understand
that people have unique orientations. Some are results-focused, while
others are relationally motivated or process-driven. It is the
leader's job to balance success across the dimensions instead of
leaning too far in a single direction.
A balanced administrator is best positioned to enact change amongst teams and throughout a district. With facilitative leadership, enacting a supportive work environment with continuous improvement is a key performance indicator of results being achieved.
3. Design collaborative processes, so people understand how and
when to contribute their ideas.
Many educational stakeholders are
rarely or never asked for their input, depriving leaders of key
insights that can drive robust decision-making, improve
relationships, and ultimately buy in to change. People want to
participate in decisions that affect their daily work lives.
Therefore, school leaders should seek
maximum appropriate involvement from stakeholders. Consider: who will
be impacted by the change or has valuable institutional knowledge?
This helps to improve communication and decision-making, increases
commitment to action, and establishes higher levels of trust.
For example, empowering teachers and
other stakeholders to build consensus on cultural or aesthetic
decisions helps them feel more personally involved in the
organization’s holistic mission, vision, and environment.
4. Facilitate understanding and agreement in every conversation.
Big-picture outcomes are achieved
step-by-step through collaborative conversations, formal meetings,
and PLCs. These strategic and highly-valuable exchanges can drive
change when they are facilitated appropriately.
Leaders enable success when they
accurately identify the most important topics, stakeholders, and
desired outcomes from these conversations. Consequently, facilitative
leaders will prioritize meeting planning, diversity of opinion,
teamwork, and the creation of realistic action plans.
Agreement building is the currency of
collaboration. Whether enacting district-wide change or making
improvements in a single school, cohesion is based on productive
collaboration to build understanding and agreement across teams and
5. Celebrate success and accomplishments to reinforce desired
behaviors and core values.
People want to feel valued and
appreciated at work. Especially in a fast-paced educational
environment, celebrating success and accomplishments often gets
District administrators can reverse
this trend by celebrating the success of individuals and teams, even
small ones, in ways that are authentic and appropriate for the
For instance, writing a handwritten
note of gratitude to a first-year teacher expresses value and support
appropriate to the occasion. In contrast, a teacher approaching a
major milestone deserves a more expansive celebration.
Making appreciation and celebration a
district-wide priority can have profound implications for school
culture and student success. This includes taking the time to know
your staff and how they want to be recognized, and then recognizing
performance helps to build pride, self-esteem, and greater
A Final Word
Current challenges and opportunities
call for inclusive school leaders who can lead across hierarchy and
traditional lines of authority to tackle complex problems facing
stakeholders at varying levels in public education. Leaders are
craving tools to think more clearly, guide collaborative action, and
improve team performance.
The practice of facilitative leadership
as a district-wide model can propel the development and
retention of effective teachers, leaders, and professional staff. It
has been effectively deployed at the district and state-wide levels
and can build a strong educational leadership pipeline at a critical
time. The answers to our district's most pressing problems are there
— among our people.
Mission-minded school leaders across
the country have implemented hundreds of practical solutions.
Educators are excellent at defining problems, analyzing root causes,
and coming up with well-reasoned answers. How about we tap into the
assemblies of passionate and talented people who yearn to be
catalysts for student excellence, sustainable improvement, and closer