Sharing Stories of Collaborative Leadership

What does Collaborative Leadership look like in practice? That’s the question I asked myself while waiting for my flight from Washington, D.C., to start my trip to Coachella Valley Unified School District in rural California in the spring of 2015. Coachella was the first stop on a whirlwind series of site visits the Office of Educational Technology made to 8 districts and 24 schools across the country.

We’d been working with our research partners Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) for several months to identify research-based policies and practices being implemented by exemplary districts who were leveraging technology to transform learning outcomes for all the students they serve. Our plan was to capture stories from superintendents across the country to create virtual site visits to share with other leaders.

The stories we captured were even more powerful than I had imagined.

Collaborative Leadership, as defined in this research synthesis developed by AIR to validate and inform the work of this project, is fully manifested in leaders who:

  • Demonstrate strong leadership aptitude
  • Develop a shared vision for teaching, leading, and learning
  • Create a culture of trust and innovation
  • Use media and technology tools to establish an ongoing communications system and feedback loop with a wide audience of stakeholders
  • Develop ongoing plans for improvement
  • Model effective technology use
  • Develop policies that permit students and teachers to explore online environments and digital tools without unwarranted restrictions
  • Develop sustainable funding plans

Stories of Collaborative Leadership

Focusing on the characteristics identified in the research synthesis, we captured stories of Collaborative Leadership policies and practices from superintendents, students, parents, teachers, principals, district and school staff, school board members, and members of the community that they all serve. The following videos capture the approaches that three exemplary districts took to leverage technology to transform learning.

Turn-Around: New Directions in Student Learning

The Coachella Valley leadership team discusses breaking down the barriers to digital transformation through stakeholder communication, along with how they funded a mobile learning initiative.

Key Research-Based Dimensions: Strong leadership aptitude; Shared vision for teaching, leading, and learning; Culture of trust and innovation; Transparent communications; Sustainable funding.

Collaborative Leadership in Action

The Palisades School District leadership team discusses Collaborative Leadership as a means of building capacity in leadership, teaching staff and the school community.

Key Research-Based Dimensions: Ongoing plan for improvement; Transparent communications; Modeling technology use; Shared vision for teaching, leading, and learning.

Strategies for Involving Students and Parents

The St. Vrain Valley leadership team discusses how the act of raising sustainable funding served as a means for involving parents and students in ownership of school community.

Key Research-Based Dimensions: Strong leadership aptitude; Shared vision for teaching, leading, and learning; Transparent communications.

Peer-Based Leadership Programs

Connecting virtually to the experiences and lessons learned through stories from peers is not only efficient, it’s powerful. The life of a superintendent who is on the clock 24/7/365 can be both exhausting and lonely, and can feel isolated from peers.

“An increasing number of school district leaders are seeking opportunities to share ideas, challenges, and solutions to address the issues they face every day. These superintendents realize that isolation must end if they’re serious about raising the level of excellence in their schools, school districts and communities. It’s critically important for superintendents to engage with their peers on a regular basis.”
-Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

While strong leadership is essential for systemic change in education, it is clear that change cannot occur in isolation. Future Ready Coalition partner AASA supports superintendents through a number of programs to promote professional, collegial engagement and learning. These programs are geared to promote peer engagement among aspiring, current and former superintendents. What’s more, in the spirit of Collaborative Leadership, these groups are not restricted to just superintendents. AASA encourages teachers, principals, school building leaders and administrative staff as well as other advocates of public education to participate in these initiatives, such as the following:

  • School Administrator: AASA’s monthly magazine provides peer-based advice on a broad range of topics specific to K-12 education and the leadership of public school districts.
  • Urban Superintendents Academy: Prepares individuals to successfully lead school districts in our nation’s urban settings, in partnership with Howard University and the University of Southern California.
  • AASA Digital Consortium: Supports school district leadership in the areas of innovation, creativity and technology for superintendents successfully leading digital transitions and emerging models of digital content in their school districts.

Additional leadership resources are available from our other Future Ready Coalition Partners. Future Ready Tools, including a comprehensive interactive planning tool called the Planning Dashboard, a new one-stop Hub for district leaders’ ongoing professional learning activities, and in-person summits and workshops, are also available.

We will be highlighting rich stories of Collaborative Leadership throughout Future Ready Leaders month. Information on how to engage with the Future Ready Leaders resources is also available at tech.ed.gov/leaders/.

We hope that the stories so graciously shared with OET from the eight Future Ready district leadership teams will inspire other districts to reflect on their practice and share new stories of Collaborative Leadership with their network of peers. If you have stories of Collaborative Leadership in practice that are aligned with the research base described above, we would love to hear them. Please share your stories as comments below, or send them directly to us at tech@ed.gov.


Bernadette Adams is a Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education.

Daniel A. Domenech is the Executive Director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.