Leadership for Inclusive Schools: A Parent’s Perspective

Teacher and student looking at book

“Leadership is not power over others—it is power in relationship with others.”

This is one of my favorite sayings about effective leaders and one that states very simply the essential role of the principal in building an inclusive school.

Relational Leadership

The highly successful school principal knows how to build relationships with parents, staff, and students. It reminds me that “bedside manner,” which is so critical in the health profession, also applies to schools. I think of it as “desk-side manner,” where it is obvious that the school cares for every student. The needs of the children come first and drive the decisions that are made in the school. Parents are part of the process of effective inclusion and parent feedback is valued and used in planning.

Principals who know how to build relationships create an environment of respect for all members of the school community, including parents; therefore, trust and cooperation develop between the school and the home. And where there is trust and cooperation, there is effective collaboration and a shared ownership for the success of every student—a critical component of quality inclusive schools.

In essence, relational leadership is characterized by caring, service, collaboration and communication.

Personal Belief and Professional Commitment

To lead an inclusive school requires not only a personal belief that all children can learn but also a commitment to provide all children with equal access to a rich core curriculum and quality instruction that meets the needs of all students.

It’s about providing appropriate support and training for teachers to help service each child. The school is continually identifying strategies to increase the participation of special needs students in the general activities of the campus.

Effective school leadership does not ask the question, “Why inclusion?” Rather, these committed principals are always asking, “How do we make inclusion work better?” They maintain a clear and consistent definition of inclusion—one that the entire faculty understands, and they share their commitment to making effective inclusion work at their school.

Accessible and Responsible

Effective principals are continuously involved in the life of the school—the students, staff, parents, district administration, and the community. As parents, we know the benefit of having a principal who:

  • knows my child and recalls something positive about him,
  • takes the time to listen to concerns,
  • is present at school events,
  • returns calls in a timely manner,
  • claims responsibility for the school’s role in providing support for students,
  • stays calm in difficult situations,
  • puts the needs of the school before themselves
  • leads by example, and
  • smiles often!

These successful leaders are not only accessible to parents and to their staff but they are also models of collaborative relationships. They assume the responsibility of preparing their staff, increasing instructional effectiveness, making the most of campus resources, and sustaining continuous improvement of inclusive practices.

Check out the “Roadmap to Quality Inclusion: A Simple Checklist for Campus Leadership.”

In spite of the many administrative tasks of running a school, the effective principal truly believes in the “people first” mentality.

Cathy has 40 years in education, with teaching experience at both the elementary and secondary levels. She is the Director of Inclusive Schools Network and an Adjunct Associates at Stetson & Associates, Inc.

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