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How to raise up
your district
to do better

Every school board wants its organization to soar. But what conditions make one district perform better than another? What board actions can turn losses into gains? How do effective boards use their influence to sustain long-term change? According to thought leader Andy Hargreaves and his colleagues from Boston College, the answers boil down to two words: Uplifting leadership. Uplifting leadership occurs when board members work together to create something bigger than themselves.

There are two reasons to become an uplifting board. First, uplifting boards give employees hope. They use trust and encouragement to inspire action. When they build up their people, their people do more. Second, the alternative—depressing leadership—is unthinkable. A depressing board toils in negativity. It focuses on failure and blame over success. In districts where depressing leadership holds sway, innovation is sporadic and risk taking nonexistent.

Uplifting school boards
see innovation as a
people-driven function.

Uplifting school boards see innovation as a people-driven function, not a policy-driven function. Their work is grounded in six defining practices. The first practice is dreaming with determination. School boards that govern well dream big. However, they don’t just talk about their dreams. They collaborate with the superintendent and staff to turn dreams into reality. Inside expertise is used to connect the future to the past. Cultural and historical assets serve as navigational tools to map out new destinations.

The second practice of an uplifting board is the application of counterintuitive thinking. They get out of the water and walk upstream instead of trying to swim upstream. They value creative decision making, which allows employees to exceed expectations. By combining innovation with relentless discipline, uplifting school boards amplify creativity throughout their organization. [Tweet this.] For example, rather than rush to try a new idea in every school, they may try it in one or two schools. Principals and teachers are willing to risk going against the flow because their board invites (and trusts) them to forge their own path.

The third practice of an uplifting board is bridging collaboration with competition. In any field, it’s natural to want to do better than your contemporaries. However, uplifting boards love it when staff members give away their best ideas. When alliances are formed with disparate partners, a platform for collective action is created. Think of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. Although their rivalry is fierce, these sisters are extremely close. Together, they have won 13 Grand Slam doubles titles, 3 Olympic gold medals, and 21 titles playing on the same team. Their “collaborate and compete” legacy is a prime time goldmine.

Pushing and pulling feels
more like a nudge and tug
than a shove and yank.

The fourth practice is pushing and pulling to initiate change. To serve local needs, sometimes the board must…

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Thought for the Week

Simply pulling a strategy “off the shelf” or defaulting to the most recently read article or staff development session topic may not generate the results we seek.

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