How the Best School Leaders Make Others Better

If there’s one thing Dr. Wendy Robinson isn’t, it’s typical.

The longtime Superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools in Indiana has managed to hold her position four times longer than the average urban school district leader. She’s been with the district since she started as a teacher in 1973.

Such staying power is a credit to the dedication Robinson shows to her community. It also speaks to an uncommon ability to withstand the threats and challenges that accompany public office.

So, what keeps Robinson keeping on?

As we continue our look at Education Week’s 2016 Leader to Learn From series, our focus shifts to collaboration—and specifically, to Robinson’s ability to bring people together.

In an interview with EdWeek, Robinson described her thinking this way: “I don’t think leadership is to create a lot of people to follow you. What I am trying to do is to work myself out of a job, because I am trying to help people to be able to carry the load.”

A better budget proposal
In the Indiana state legislature, Robinson embraces her reputation as a crusader for urban school funding. It’s not a reputation she earned by acting alone.

When news surfaced last year that state lawmakers were considering spending cuts for some of the state’s poorest schools, Robinson worked with members of her cabinet to draft a successful counter proposal, keeping much needed money in the budget.

Working with board members
Respect for Robinson’s collaborative approach extends beyond the State House. She’s also gained the admiration of local school board members, in large part for her willingness to listen, and adjust her approach.

School board and superintendent relations are notoriously tense, but Robinson emphasizes the importance of collaborative decisions to solve problems.

Serving the broader community
As a school leader, it’s easy to trumpet the importance of community engagement. It’s much tougher to put that talk into practice.

Robinson views her district as a combination of essential groups — students, staff, parents, and the voting public. She emphasizes the importance of actively listening and responding to every person who has a stake in the district’s schools.

To address this need, she worked with team members to launch an online system that gives teachers, parents, students, and others 24/7 access to important school district conversations.

For more about Robinson’s collaborative approach, watch the video below. And read this case study about her district’s success.

Are you looking for a way to collaborate with your community? Start by encouraging open and honest conversations.

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