Author: Eddie Koen, President of the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL): The Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) works with leaders across the education ecosystem to build the capacity of educators, professionals, and families.

How do we transform the education system in the post-pandemic era? One key vehicle is leadership.

Community-based leadership development recognizes that everyone has the potential to be a leader and emphasizes the importance of equipping both positional and non-positional leaders with the necessary tools to drive change. It utilizes the “power of proximity,” focusing on ensuring that the people at the table are representative leaders – people connected to and embedded in the communities they lead, who know what’s best for those they represent because they live, work, and engage with them regularly and can communicate their interests and needs.

While positional leaders such as principals and administrators are crucial, the reality is that they cannot do it all alone. In community-based leadership, the focus is on building a culture of collaboration and shared leadership within and beyond schools. By fostering an inclusive environment that values the unique perspectives and contributions of all, positional leaders can cultivate a powerful synergy that drives educational improvement.

Everyone in the community has a stake in the success of their schools, and creating space for non-positional leaders allows for greater engagement and ownership of the educational process. However, this does not happen without hard work.

Systems Change

The Community School strategy is a highly effective one for community-based leadership development. The Community School Strategy recognizes that education extends beyond the classroom and that schools play a pivotal role in strengthening communities. It involves the integration of academic, health, social, and emotional support services within the school environment, creating a hub of resources that address the diverse needs of students and their families.

By providing comprehensive support services, such as healthcare, mental health counseling, and after-school programs, Community Schools address the barriers that hinder student achievement. Moreover, the strategy centers inclusive practices and actively involves families, community organizations, and students in the decision-making process, fostering a sense of shared responsibility for educational outcomes.

Community Schools not only benefit students but also serve as catalysts for community revitalization. By partnering with local organizations and engaging community members, these schools become vibrant centers of learning, collaboration, and innovation. The Community School Strategy exemplifies the power of community-based leadership, as it brings together diverse leaders to drive meaningful change.

IEL has developed several programs to make this happen. This includes our Coalition for Community Schools, Building a Community Schools System Guide for those engaged in or planning to engage in Community Schools efforts. We also have a State Coalition Stages of Development Rubric for Community School leaders looking to further align their work as they build or scale a state coalition.

Individual Growth

Fostering community-based leadership, we focus on nurturing key competencies such as communication, collaboration, empathy, and problem-solving, as well as opportunities for deeper understanding of the educational and systemic issues. These skills enable leaders to engage with diverse partners, build relationships, and navigate complex challenges. Below are a few illustrative examples of how we foster leadership development for equitable and sustainable change:

IEL’s nationally recognized Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP™) has over 10,000 alumni who understand the need for effective community-based implementation of local, state, and federal policy.

We partner with local communities and school districts in creating cohort programs for principals to build their collaborative leadership skills. From District Leaders to Community School Coordinators.

Another focus of IEL’s work is engaging youth and supporting youth leadership. Our Youth Voice in Community Schools Guide illuminates practices for meaningful engagement of youth in Community Schools (and beyond) and to recognize youth voice as a community asset that can help advance more equitable school systems. We have also created a Leaders of Tomorrow (LOT) Immigrant and Refugee Youth Guidebook on Leadership Development, which was co-created by immigrant and refugee youth.

The Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program (RAMP) – a high tech, career-focused mentoring program for youth and young adults with disabilities who are involved with or at-risk of becoming involved with the justice system. The RAMP model uses group, peer, and one-on-one mentoring to promote the successful transition of RAMP participants to employment, continued learning opportunities, and independent living.

Getting to Work

Community-based leadership development recognizes that leadership is not confined to positional roles but can be activated by every individual. We foster a collaborative approach to educational leadership that can accelerate positive social change in one’s own community. We believe and have evidence to support the notion that by embracing this strategy, we can create a brighter future for our students and communities.