Leadership Quadrangulation, not Student Strangulation

Education & Technology

As a high school teacher and student of history one of the key lessons history offers is the critical nature of leadership. There is a parade of examples throughout all of recorded history that shows nations rise and fall with leadership. If you were to talk with the Army at historic West Point they would call their institute on the Hudson a “leadership laboratory”. If you talk with leadership experts, and yes, leadership expertise is an industry in itself, they would tell you that leadership is the most critical factor for the success or failure of an organization. Whether it is a business, a military unit, a nation, a family, a classroom, or a school, leadership primarily determines their success or failure.

The College Board
The College Board, as part of its mission, conducts massive research to explore what causes or prevents academic success. Why are some students successful and others not as successful on the College Board’s popular exams? These exams check for actual college readiness prior to college entrance through the SAT. The AP exam checks for content knowledge and skill level at an acceptable introductory college level standard. If the standard is successfully met, 90% of colleges will give credit and/or advanced placement.

As an Advanced Placement teacher I have read this research over the years and was attracted to two themes. The College Board has determined that the teacher is the most critical factor related to student success on the annual AP exam. Because of this, the College Board puts much support behind AP teacher professional development. The College Board endorses consultants and institutes for the purpose of training and developing new and seasoned AP teachers and administrators.

As an AP US History exam reader, in addition to the goal of reading a thousand exams in seven days, the reading itself is a very important professional development experience for my colleagues and me. It also serves as a giant collaboration opportunity. I have gained tremendous insight and ideas just in talking with other AP teachers and college professors, who also serve as readers. There is much research out there besides that from the College Board that has concluded that the teacher is the most critical element for the academic success of students, particularly in K-12.

Leadership at home
The College Board has also conducted interesting research on the family as related to academic achievement. The research shows that there is a direct link between the socio-economic status (SES) of the family and the success of the student on AP exams. The data shows, that the higher economic status of the family directly leads to better student performance on the AP exam. It’s truly interesting there is a direct connection. The research suggests a few points about the family. And by the way, the research says that minority status is not as much a factor, though minorities are of interest to the College Board and other researchers.

According to College Board research it really is the economic status that is the more dominant factor. The higher economic status suggests that the parents have more education and have found success in the market place. These qualities permeate the family structure and affect their children by the modeled and stated expectation of the parents. Put another way, parental leadership and higher SES go hand in hand. The State of California and the Federal government recognize the need for extra support of lower economic status of families through title IX programs and lunch programs, to name just two of many areas of aid. Even districts keep track of parent’s education as an indicator of student performance.

Leadership at school
Does school leadership greatly impact student success? Marzano and others would say absolutely yes. School administrators who provide solid leadership create what Marzano calls an ‘Effective School.’ Marzano conducts “Effective School Conferences” throughout the nation to spread his research data conclusions to help staff improve their schools. A school culture that effectively cultivates academic achievement helps to creates higher expectations among the student community. If this culture can be successfully achieved, the peer pressure within the student group can become instrumental in driving students to achieve.

It’s amazing what can happen within a school student population when staff will work with student leadership groups such as: ASB, Link Crew, and Student Achievement to develop good student leadership within the student body. The positive effects can be tremendous. Marzano says an ‘effective school’ generates this kind of a culture. If you think about it, an individual or group will often control and drive the school culture. It should be the administrators and staff. If the school administrators and staff abdicate this role, then by default, others will fill this leadership vacuum. Unfortunately, this tendency for a vacuum to be filled rarely involves strong, unified, leadership and invariably means less academic success. In many instances it means a failed school.

Student Leadership
What is the student’s responsibility? Simple: to follow great models of leadership and, ultimately, be prepared to lead themselves. If you were to talk to West Point administrators (West Point has been rated among the top colleges in the country for several years), West Point’s ‘leadership laboratory’ requires that freshman learn to follow first before they learn to lead. This again presses those who lead our students to lead them well. It is hard for anyone to follow poor leadership, whether adults or students, and harder still to emerge as a leader when there is no model upon which they can build.

My last article discussed the power of cloud based technology in creating transparency. Cloud based technologies like WizIQ, School Loop, and a host of other online technologies, by virtue of their efficient business models, can enable those interested parties who are supposed to lead to work together to improve student achievement. The triangulation of my last article is perhaps now a quadrangulation if you include: teachers, parents, school administrators and then the students. The Cloud technology’s power will only work properly in the right culture of leadership and shared responsibility.

Leadership is not easy. It means hard work. It means responsibility. It means providing excellent modeling. It means setting expectations for staff and students, sons and daughters. No matter what, research shows that the one part of the quadrangle that cannot fail to lead, is the teacher in the classroom. But if all will lead, education institutes become magical place. The Quadrangulation of leadership releases our students to seek out success rather than struggling in an environment that only serves as a place of strangulation.

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