Supporting Emerging Leaders through School Leader Lab

At Education Forward DC, our human capital investments are focused on ensuring that every public school in DC has the high-quality teachers and school leaders that students need. Our grants focus not only on increasing the number of excellent teachers and leaders needed to serve a growing student population, but also on supporting organizations that help to develop teachers and school leaders to amplify their impact on student learning and success.

One of the grantees Education Forward DC supports is School Leader Lab, which partners with another of our grantees, Relay Graduate School of Education, to holistically develop school leaders to master a mix of skills required in excellent school leadership, including adaptive leadership (the ability to lead a team through changes); instructional leadership (the ability to manage and implement strong curriculum and data practices to promote high quality student learning); and setting and managing school culture (or the written and unwritten rules that influence every aspect of how a school functions).

Launched in spring of 2016, School Leader Lab offers a practice-based cohort experience for up to 25 principals and assistant principals each year. In these cohorts, school leaders receive one-on-one coaching around culture and adult leadership. School leaders are also able reflect with and learn from their peers. To complement their coaching in adaptive leadership, School Leader Lab partners with Relay Graduate School of Education. Members of the School Leader Cohort have the opportunity to attend Relay Graduate School of Education’s National Principals and Principal Supervisors Fellowship to receive training on instructional leadership and setting and managing school culture. At Relay’s national training sessions, school leaders learn how to analyze student data, effectively support educators and create a positive school culture, while continuing to practice these skills regularly with feedback from School Leader Lab coaches. By receiving holistic, complementary training through School Leader Lab and Relay Graduate School of Education, school leaders are prepared to transform and lead excellent schools that are positioned to serve students well.   

Joy Clarke, High School Assistant Principal at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, and Maya Stewart, Middle School Principal at DC International School, participated in the inaugural School Leader Lab cohort in spring of 2017 and spoke with us about their experience.

Education Forward DC: How would you describe the School Leader Lab experience?

Joy Clarke: It’s an opportunity for you to learn more about yourself, to increase your own self-awareness as a leader, to understand the skin that you live in, and to understand the context in which you work. And how the technical pieces of our work — grades and all of that — infuse with the adaptive pieces of working with people: kids, families, adults, and staff.

In a nutshell I’d say it is a program that’s going to give you a holistic view of leadership, and not just the technical or adaptive, but both simultaneously.

Maya Stewart: Relay gave me tangible documents and tools to change my practice. It gave me things I needed that I didn’t know I needed — frames of thinking, day-to-day tools.

School Leader Lab gave me context. It forced me to think about how I’m thinking. Your answers are inside of you. School Leader Lab taught me how to look for it in myself and taught me how to do that with other people.

Education Forward DC: How does School Leader Lab complement the Relay training?

Joy: Relay is super technical: This is how you run a data meeting, and this is how you coach teachers in observation/feedback meetings. And then on the (School Leader Lab) side is the adult leadership piece of how to have a difficult conversation with a teacher who may be struggling and possibly going through something personally. School Leader Lab taught me how to give them critical feedback in a way that they’re going to receive it.

With school culture, Relay has a very set (protocol): this is how you (role play), this is how you teach teachers how to do that. What School Leader Lab then does is say, let’s take this home, let’s think about how this would work in your context.

Maya: School Leader Lab is definitely giving an extra piece and I would say it’s adult leadership. Being able to talk about real things and feeling safe. Once people started peeling back their shells and stuff was exposed, I was like: OK, I’m in good company, because none of us is perfect and all of us are trying to do the same thing which is educate people’s children and do it well and give them the best version of everything we have.

I was able to sit with cohort members and say, ‘You’re right about that. What you’re saying about how I’m showing up or how I’m responding or something that I may have missed or a faction of my community that I may have left out when I made this decision — you are spot on.’

Education Forward DC: Did your coaching improve as a result of the coaching you received?

Joy: My coaching has become a lot stronger. In the conversations I have with teachers, I am much more direct with my feedback. It’s taught me how to give action steps and write them in ways that people can really understand. And they can turn around and do them the next day and the next week and have those actions be observable. That has increased the trusting relationship I’ve been able to develop with my teachers.

Maya: If I give you the answers to solve your problems, your success is mine, and the failure is on me. But if you bring me a problem, I force you to think about the problem, and I force you to think about what you can do and what you already know how to do to solve the problem, the success, and if there is failure, it’s still yours. It still belongs to you.

It’s something I don’t think I would have gotten in any other experience. If Id just gotten the Relay part, that would have been great, but because I got the context and I have a lifelong cohort of people I can do this work with through School Leader Lab, it changed everything.