How schools build leader capacity

ASCD Associate Executive Director Ronn Nozoe in this Q&A discusses the role transformational leadership plays in education at every level, and how it can help further the mission of educating the whole child. Nozoe, a veteran educator who formerly served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs at the US Department of Education, also shares his thoughts on the unique opportunities provided to educators under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Q. What is transformational leadership?          

Transformational leadership is about helping educators build a continuum and capacity for leadership, no matter their current role. The result is a mindset and behavior shift that results in educators who are equipped to tackle tough challenges through an increase in knowledge, skills, and capacity.

Q. ASCD is passionate about educating the whole child. How does transformational leadership help ensure each student is healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged?

The whole child approach is based on the belief that every child should be healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged. When educators are given the time, tools and resources they need to succeed and lead, they then have the necessary breathing room to look beyond prescriptive definitions of student success and focus on a more holistic approach to education. From creating a positive school culture to collaborating with colleagues to using data effectively, transformational leadership helps educators see things as they could be, not as they are.

Q. How would you describe the current school leadership landscape?

I’ve had the opportunity to work with educators from across the country and across the globe, and what I’ve seen is that there are still significant challenges in establishing effective school leadership. Each day, school leaders at every level -- teachers, staff, administrators, central office personnel, superintendents and school board members -- are being asked to do more with less. But what I’ve also seen is that educators at every level are willing and ready to step up to meet today’s challenges. In the United States and abroad, we are at a defining moment in education, and we have a chance to collectively redefine student success and systems for recruitment, retention, capacity building, teaching, learning, assessing, grading, promoting and matriculating -- what we educators call “backmapping.” We also have a tremendous opportunity to rethink how we structure roles and responsibilities in education to elevate practitioners as experts, raise up teacher and staff leaders in their current roles and build the continuum of both child and adult supports throughout the K-12 ecosystem to include and leverage central offices as powerful partners in success.

Q. The Every Student Succeeds Act gives more flexibility to state education leaders to measure student success, including the consideration of nonacademic factors. What does this shift from federal to state and local leadership mean for school leaders?

ESSA has provided a unique and important opportunity that requires the best from every educator -- their best thinking, their best intentions, their best effort and their best execution. Collaboration and distributed leadership skills are key to success as the new law and regulations go into effect. ESSA success will require educators to listen to and support each other in order to foster inclusiveness, collaboration and a focus on ensuring each child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged. Educators at every level should be engaged in the ESSA process and can find opportunities to engage at the state level by visiting ASCD’s ESSA state implementation map.

Q. If you could give education leaders one piece of advice for the new year, what would it be?

Be bold, brave and courageous by putting kids at the center of everything you do. At the end of the day, if you do everything you can on behalf of the best interests of kids, you can't go wrong. 

Katharine Haber is an education editor for SmartBrief, writing and editing content about a variety of topics in education.