Deirdre Moore | November 2018

5 Success Factors for Schools

I have never been a business person. I don’t have the savvy, the knowledge, or to be honest, the interest! And yet, watching a TED Talk about leadership given by Rosalinde Torres (who spent years researching what makes a successful leader) totally had me interested!

Torres is the Senior Partner and Managing Director, Leader, and CEO of the Advisory Team for Boston Consulting Group (BCG).  That is a really long title!  I don’t even know exactly what it all means. But what I do know is that BCG is conducting extensive research and advising CEOs on how to succeed.  As I was reading the results of a study they conducted about successful CEOs, something struck me. Their findings mirror how educators, from superintendents to principals and teachers, can also be successful!

5 Success Factors for Schools

This study by Torres and her fellow researchers concluded that factors that translate to a successful CEO fall into 5 categories:

  1. A grounded and compelling strategic narrative;
  2. Competitively advantaged moves;
  3. Interactions with stakeholders;
  4. Engagement of the organization; and
  5. A long-term positive imprint.

I have heard people in the education world talk about stakeholders and that is particularly true for the arts.  Arts educators are often having to advocate for their programs and appeal to different stakeholders for the health and sustainability of their programs. So let’s take a look at these 5 categories and what educators can learn from them.

#1 – Grounded and Compelling Narrative

Basically, there needs to be a vision that is grounded in what the community needs. Additionally, there should be just a few clear steps articulated to making that vision a reality. And lastly, both the vision and the steps need to be clearly communicated to everyone involved.

That works on every level in education, from the district down to the classroom level!  The clearer and unified the vision, the clearer the action steps are. The clearer the action steps are, the better all of this is communicated. The better the communication, the more likely it is that the vision will be achieved.

Superintendents need to get principal buy-in, right? Principals face the same challenge with teachers and parents.  And let’s not forget about teachers. They need parent and student buy-in.  The best way to do that is to be clear.

The researchers also suggest that “biological thinking” is better than “mechanistic thinking”. This basically means that you are not a machine.  You are sensitive to your environment and the needs of your students and your community.  You are flexible and ready to adjust when needed.  That sounds about right for educators, doesn’t it?

#2 – Competitively Advantaged Moves

My big takeaway from this section of the study was that you want to challenge people and keep them from falling into complacency. But at the same time, you also don’t want to overwhelm them.  You don’t want to take on too much.  In order to do this, you have to find “the sweet spot”.

This is true for district and school-wide initiatives.  It’s also true for students at the classroom level.  You want the teachers and students to be challenged but you don’t want them to be stressed.  Nobody works well or learns well when they are stressed.  Most people respond well to being appropriately challenged.  CEO of Forlenza & Associates, Victor Forlenza says, “You know, you can’t try to do too many things, but if your efforts are reinforcing, you will get more momentum.”  So true, so true.

#3 – Interactions with Stakeholders

Superintendents have the most stakeholders of whom to be aware and to whom to be sensitive. But teachers have between 20-25 of them every day! (And that’s not including their stakeholders’ families!)

As in any business, stakeholders need to feel as though they have a voice… even though their interests may conflict.  A great CEO can hear them all and then educate them to understand what is best.  The leader needs to reach out to as many of the stakeholders as possible to maintain good communication, manage expectations and educate as needed.

When a classroom teacher has a good relationship with their students and families, as well as with colleagues and administrators, the whole school community will be more likely to thrive.  When families know what to expect, when they understand what their children are learning and how they are being assessed, when teachers understand why they are learning yet another approach or system, things will flow more smoothly and everyone will be working toward the same goal.

#4 Engagement of the Organization

That clear communication leads right into engagement. The members of the organization will be engaged and much more ready to do their part if the:

  • leader of the classroom, school or district is reaching out to and communicating with the stakeholders;
  • leader communicates a passion and enthusiasm to their community; and
  • goals and steps to realizing those goals are clear and responsive to the needs of the community.

That’s just common sense.

#5 – Long-term Positive Imprint

This is my favorite one.  As a teacher, you want your students to become independent learners.  To leave your classroom and be able to learn anywhere with anyone.  You want them to have both the skills and the desire to learn on their own and to understand the impact they can have on their world.

As a principal or superintendent, you want to be able to leave a school or district and know that the strides you made are sustainable. That the principals, teachers, parents, and students have been empowered to continue the great work you have all achieved together.  As CEO of DowDuPont Edward Breen states, “Leave the company in great shape, better than it has ever been before, and walk out with a smile on your face.”

I hope when you leave your classroom, school or district office for summer vacation, you walk out with a smile on your face, knowing everyone around you is empowered to continue to make positive changes in their own lives and their communities.  Now that is what I call success!

About the Author

Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.