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Navigating School Safety and Student Wellness with Facilitative Leadership | #schoolsaftey

Facilitative leadership has the power to transform how a district, school, or classroom is managed and, ultimately, how a culture of safety and support is built into its foundation.

Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety.

Education has historically been a difficult and demanding profession where people are overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated.

Arguably, leading in a classroom or education setting has never been more challenging than it is right now. Today’s teachers face unprecedented challenges that amplify these realities, including issues around school funding, school safety, teacher recruitment, pay, retention, and student achievement.

As one New York Times Op-Ed writer opined, “People don’t want to be teachers anymore. Can you blame them?”

The same can be said for students. Across the board, mental health outcomes are eroding, academic achievement is falling, and culture wars are swarming. The collective sum of these factors equates to an environment where everything from well-being to safety can be negatively impacted.

Working together in a collaborative educational environment is the best way to improve the educational experience for everyone because thriving teachers and student achievement require an entire team — a community.

For instance, collaboration helps to invite creative ideas during lesson planning. By working with others, we gain different perspectives. This is healthy and, at times, challenging, prompting us to see ourselves in new ways and explore who we are as educators and learners. This helps encourage us to explore who our students can be as learners.

Collaboration is also a real-world skill. When students work together, they learn from each other and grow from one another’s perspectives, developing their interpersonal skills in the process.

Simply put, connection and collaboration are critical to supporting teachers and students.

Facilitative leadership, a framework for improving the effectiveness of team, project, and organizational leaders, can help.

Understanding Facilitative Leadership

Facilitative leadership is a mindset and skillset. It is an approach to how one views the world and a set of practical tools and techniques for navigating highly complex situations.

This approach is unique in educational settings as it transforms the traditional power dynamics, philosophy, and approach into a collaborative model. Decision-making is decentralized, empowering individuals to lead at the classroom, school, and district levels. This shift from a hierarchical to a distributed leadership structure fosters a more inclusive and participatory environment.

It allows one to see the world through “process eyes,” which helps one better understand the current landscape, prioritize issues, and build clear and aligned action plans to make changes and improvements happen from the inside out.

Several states and districts already implement facilitative leadership at scale, including North Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and Maryland. In North Carolina, specifically, the NC General Assembly mandated that school-based management be used as a decision-making method in public schools to bolster student performance. It transfers decision-making authority from the state to individual schools and provides principals, teachers, students, and parents greater control over the education process by giving them responsibility.

There must be an increased structure and skill set around collaborative problem-solving to implement this. Most educators work in isolation, doing what they can within their sphere. Instead, educators and district leaders need training and a common language and approach to working in teams, solving problems together, running effective meetings, and working collaboratively.

Measuring the Impact of Collaboration

Within facilitative leadership, there are several core skills taught. These also help to develop new mindsets and practices in educators around:

  • How to develop and share an inspiring vision
  • How to measure success in a multidimensional way (across results, process, relationship dimensions)
  • How leaders can engage and involve others in decision-making
  • How to design a collaborative process to move a group through problem, solution, vision, and implementation spaces
  • How to facilitate productive and efficient meetings
  • How to coach colleagues and direct reports
  • How to acknowledge people and celebrate success

These mindsets, skills, and ongoing practices impact every part of the educational environment, changing how leaders lead, teachers teach, and students learn. The core skills and practices of facilitative leadership are a highly effective way to nurture and cultivate a space that creates a more collaborative, effective, and safe space for every stakeholder.

When implemented effectively, it results in greater satisfaction, primarily because there is greater involvement, alignment, clarity, celebration, and acknowledgment.

Better Together

No one wants to be on an island among themselves. Think back to your most successful and enjoyable experience as an educator. Was it something you did alone?

Our best chance at providing high-quality education for all students is by serving as a united front, enrolled in the same vision, planning, organizing, and implementing in synergy, transcending any individual, team, or classroom. This requires skillful collaboration and the mindset, skillset, and common language to work together effectively.

Now more than ever, we need an environment of support and encouragement. The approach of facilitative leadership has the power to transform how a district, school, or classroom is managed and, ultimately, how a culture of safety and support is built into its foundation.

Chris Williams is Chief Operating Officer at Interaction Associates (IA), where Priti Ahuja, a former educator, also serves as a Senior Consultant. IA is a provider of training and consulting services for building a collaborative leadership culture in educational systems, organizations, and companies throughout North America and globally.

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