We use cookies on our website to give you a better experience, improve performance, for analytics, and to show you relevant tailored. By using this website you agree to the use of cookies. Privacy Statement

Hidden in Plain Site: Expanding our Definition of School and District Leaders

  1. Superintendent
  2. Principal
  3. Director of Maintenance and Operations
  4. Director of Nutrition Services
  5. IT Coordinator
  6. Director of Human Resources

Which of the positions in the list above do you immediately identify as an educational leader?  How many of the titles did you choose? 

When I think of an educational leader, I think principal…superintendent. But what about the director of maintenance and operations? Or the confidential secretary? Often those of us who consider ourselves educational leaders overlook a group of people who are integral to student success. Operational leaders comprise infrastructure that ensures important functions, like ensuring buses run safely and on schedule. They lead and manage teams, address crises, facilitate meetings, and build networks.  In addition to ensuring student needs are addressed, these leaders ensure that the principal and the superintendent are able to maintain focus in their roles.  Working together, leaders focused on instruction and those who ensure a functional infrastructure make schools run. And yet,  operational leaders  are often left out of professional development that can build their capacity to lead complex systems and ensure student success.   

As we face workforce shortages in schools and districts, it behooves leaders to be intentional about building capacity and deepening their leadership bench.  In my work, building leadership capacity, I am encountering more districts that are expanding their definition of educational leaders and providing leadership capacity-building professional learning to a broader range of leaders. Let’s take a look at a couple of districts.

Dr. Carola Castro, Assistant Superintendent of Academic Services in ABCUSD, a district located in Los Angeles County (California), understood the importance of extending the invitation to leadership development to additional leaders in her system. As the newly appointed leader of the division, Dr. Castro, anxious to increase coherence, brought along her administrative assistant, Sheila Lorenger, to professional learning she provided her department’s directors, supervisors, counselors and teacher leaders. Sheila’s experience inspired her to work with Dr. Castro to devise a plan to improve communication structures for directors and their secretaries across the division. 

To support Ms. Loranger’s vision for her colleagues, Dr. Castro looked to her Educational Leadership and System Design at WestEd partners to develop a leadership capacity-building experience for the Academic Services division directors and their secretaries.  It resulted in the Administrative Leadership Conversation. 

In the fall of 2023, Academic Services directors and secretaries spent a day together deepening relationships and examing division systems and culture.  

Sheila Loranger shared:

“In follow-up to this meeting at our next monthly Secretary III Team Meeting we focused our time on reviewing our current customer service practice and worked together to enhance how we approach concerns from parents and staff in general.  The process allowed us to dissect steps taken to develop a guidebook and how the steps may be used when approaching other projects. As a result of a team effort, a guidebook was created.  The WestEd training built connection, coherence, and courage to have conversations that moved our Division forward.”

A little further south, in Huntington Beach, California, Assistant Superintendent Julianne Hoefer was looking for a solution to realign and refresh relationships as the district returned to in-person learning after the pandemic shutdown. There was a need to reestablish culture, a common way of doing and being. Like many districts, Oceanview experienced significant turnover as a result of the pandemic.   Dr. Hoefer chose to partner with ELSD at WestEd to facilitate The Leadership Playbook for the district-wide management team.  

“We decided to bring our certificated, our classified leaders, our cabinet as one team to learn together. It is more powerful when we are collectively going through the same experience together. It (The Leadership Playbook)  really created a common language and common practices.”  In describing the experience, Dr. Hoefer shared:  “Each time we came together to learn we walked away with tools we could use. One of the nice things is that we spent one session really talking about how the collective group does business and as a result we set districtwide norms. Setting those norms allows me, as an individual, to show up as my best with the group as a whole. When we developed those together, it helped me know other folks better.”

My definition of an educational leader is being broadened…adjusted. 

Dr. Ayele Dodoo