March/April 2024

Be Collaborative: Crucial Characteristics of Leaders of Integrity Part III

By Don Parker
Journal | March/April 2024 

Leader integrity influences ethical behavior within the school community. Ethical leaders serve as role models, guiding others to make principled decisions that prioritize equity and fairness. By consistently aligning their actions with their values, leaders foster a culture of ethical conduct among staff and students. This culture, in turn, enhances trust, cooperation, and a shared sense of responsibility, creating fertile ground for collaboration and collective action in pursuit of equity goals.

This series explores the multifaceted ways that leader integrity impacts school equity. By understanding the pivotal role of leader integrity, school leaders can harness its transformative power to create inclusive, just, and equitable educational environments for all learners.

The series highlights the four crucial characteristics of leaders of integrity: (1) courageous, (2) ethical, (3) collaborative, and (4) action-oriented, as they relate to fostering a more equitable educational environment. This installment features collaboration, which plays a vital role in school leader integrity, guiding their decision-making processes to ensure fairness, justice, and inclusivity in educational practices.

To create inclusive schools in which the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged groups is shrinking, we need to involve staff as partners in the improvement effort.

Creating a collaborative environment within a school can be challenging when some teachers and staff members present conflicting attitudes toward change and equity-driven approaches. Some may resist change, hold onto traditional beliefs and practices, or feel threatened by shifts in the educational landscape. This clash of perspectives can create tension and hinder the creation of a truly collaborative and equitable environment. When faced with this conflict, school leaders must acknowledge and address the underlying concerns and resistance among staff. It is essential to foster open dialogue and provide opportunities for meaningful conversations that allow for differing perspectives to be heard and understood. Building trust and empathy among staff members is crucial, as it can help bridge the gap and promote a culture of collaboration.

It’s essential that school leaders are knowledgeable about the students they aspire to serve. Equity focuses on the needs of historically marginalized students, the ones who long have been underserved by educational institutions. According to school equity expert Brian Soika, “Equity work begins with understanding how one’s identity will shape interactions with students, families, and the institution in which you work. Your identity and positionality intersect in ways that will play out in the classroom in very subtle manners.”

Evidence-based strategies leaders can utilize to promote collaboration include the following methods.

Provide Professional Development and Training Focused On Equity: School leaders can help educate and motivate their staff through professional development focused on equity and cultural responsiveness. Organize workshops or training sessions that focus on equity issues in education, providing research-based information and best practices. These initiatives can help raise awareness, dispel misconceptions, and build a shared understanding of the importance of equity in schools. Provide ongoing training and resources that enhance staff members’ understanding of equity issues and equip them with practical strategies for inclusive teaching to help bridge the gap between those embracing change and those resisting change.

Create Structured Space for Collaboration: Creating structured spaces for collaboration, such as PLCs or regular team meetings, can facilitate dialogue, shared decision-making, and problem-solving around equity-related challenges. By creating structured collaborative spaces and fostering a shared purpose, school leaders can support an environment where all staff members feel valued and empowered to work together toward a more equitable and inclusive school community.

Recognize and Celebrate Staff Contributions: Recognizing and celebrating staff members’ contributions and successes in promoting equity can also help build a sense of ownership and motivation. (See sidebar, below).

Encourage Collaborative Decision Making: Collaborative decision-making is another key strategy. Principals can actively involve superintendents and community members in decision-making processes related to equity initiatives. This collaborative approach helps build trust, fosters a sense of ownership, and ensures diverse perspectives are taken into account. By engaging in shared decision-making, principals can tap into the expertise and experiences of these stakeholders, creating a more comprehensive and effective approach to promoting equity.

Foster Open Communication and Dialogue: Fostering open communication and dialogue is critical. Soika suggests, “Surround yourself with people who are pursuing equity goals as well. This might be colleagues or even a group of friends. Discuss your interests, objectives, and backgrounds, and look for ways in which you can learn from them.” Principals can create platforms for ongoing conversations with superintendents and community members, such as regular meetings or forums. These interactions provide opportunities to address questions, concerns, and misconceptions, allowing for a deeper exploration of equity-related issues. Engaging in open and respectful dialogue helps build relationships, establish common ground, and promote a culture of collaboration. In my experiences as an educator and principal, relationship building and open communication are essential in collaborative efforts for equity. Trusting relationships, valuing diverse perspectives, and engaging in ongoing dialogue are essential for bridging gaps and promoting equity.

Commit to Self-Reflection: In addition to collaborating with teachers, staff, and superintendents, principals working to maintain ethical leadership and advance equity must also work with themselves. Soika encourages school leaders to engage in self-reflection to help them build their integrity to higher levels, because self-reflection provides a sense of checks and balances. He emphasizes that because equity work requires analysis of institutional structures, school leaders must consider their own role in those structures, continuing to do the work within themselves.

Soika writes, “Critical self-reflection is an intensive process. As you reflect on your power and privilege, you may find that you implicitly support biased systems that limit opportunities for others. The goal of reflection is not to induce shame, but to increase your awareness. As you become more aware, you can grow into a stronger leader for equity.”

Don Parker, Ed.D., is a transformational keynote speaker and professional development provider. He specializes in SEL, supporting teachers to build trusting relationships with students, restorative practices, trauma-informed practices, and improving the culture and climate of schools to enhance students’ and teachers’ feelings of belonging. He is a former principal and the author of the books Building Bridges: Engaging Students At-Risk Through the Power of Relationships and Be the Driving Force: Leading Your School on the Road to Equity. Parker was also a speaker at the Equity Immersion at the 2023 Joint Annual Conference. The “Crucial Characteristics of Leaders of Integrity” series began in the November/December 2023 Journal and will conclude in an upcoming issue.

Recognize and Celebrate Staff Contributions

Recognizing and celebrating staff members’ contributions and successes in promoting equity can also help build a sense of ownership and motivation.

Acknowledge staff publicly: Principals can publicly recognize and acknowledge staff members’ contributions to promoting equity during staff meetings, school assemblies, or through school-wide communication channels. This can include highlighting specific initiatives, projects, or efforts that have had a positive impact on equity within the school community.

Organize appreciation events: Organize appreciation events, such as staff luncheons, breakfasts, or social gatherings to celebrate the collective achievements of the staff in advancing equity. These events provide an opportunity for principals to express gratitude for the dedication and hard work of their staff.

Give personalized recognition: Take the time to write personalized notes of appreciation to individual staff members, recognizing their specific contributions and successes in promoting equity. This personalized approach demonstrates attentiveness and reinforces the importance of their efforts.

Bestow awards and certificates: Create awards or certificates to honor staff members who have shown exceptional commitment and impact in fostering equity. You can present these awards at special ceremonies or events, or even staff meetings, highlighting their achievements and inspiring others to follow their lead.

Highlight success stories: Share staff members’ success stories and their impact on promoting equity through school newsletters, social media platforms, or the school website. By showcasing these stories, principals not only recognize individual efforts but also inspire others and foster a collective sense of pride and motivation.

Provide opportunities for leadership: Offer staff members to take on leadership roles within equity-focused committees, task forces, collaborative teams, or special projects or initiatives. Empowering staff members to lead and contribute to equity strengthens their sense of ownership and motivation.

Ensure regular feedback and dialogue: Establish a culture of open communication and ongoing feedback where staff members’ contributions and successes in promoting equity are consistently acknowledged and valued. Encourage regular dialogue to ensure that their voices are heard, concerns are addressed, and ideas are shared. Read The final installment, Part IV "Be Action-Oriented."

— Don Parker