Student's View: Why Student Leadership is Important in Education

(Views On Leadership) Permanent link

Student's View: Why Student Leadership is Important in Education

By Tatiana Le, student intern, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Anyone can say that student leadership is important in education, but the harder part is explaining why.

First, to be blunt, leadership experience is essential for students to be competitive as they apply for jobs, college and scholarships. In almost every college interview I had, I was asked to tell a story depicting a time where I stepped up as leader. If the interviewer wanted to stump me, they’d ask me to describe a time where I “solved a problem” or “accomplished something I was proud of.” My job was to fluently deliver a story that was genuine, unique and most importantly, that showed off my skills as an innovator and leader. Those stories can’t be told without experience.

Past the surface though, student leadership is crucial in building confidence. So many students struggle to stand up for themselves when it matters most to them. In class, students listen to their teachers and the rubrics they receive. At home, they listen to their parents, their grandparents and their older siblings. If I didn’t push myself to run for office positions and speak out, I could have easily found myself doing nothing but listening to people throughout high school, whether on a sports team, in a club or in a group project.

I remember one of my best friends in high school constantly complaining about how our honor societies had become husks; applications ceased to be selective and members faked their service hours to earn cords to wear at graduation. As much as she was frustrated, she never ran for president. She never spoke to the society sponsors or the school administration because she thought she could never change it. She complained to me and not the rest of the student body because she thought that everyone else was content with the situation when the reality was, there were other students fed up with the system too. They were all just waiting for a leader to come along because it was easier to wait.

Academic Quiz Bowl Tournament

Students should not feel powerless in an institution that is supposed to empower them. However, when they feel they are trapped in situations where they have no say, it’s no wonder why they prefer to obey, get their good grades and get out. Not to say that there is no room for followers. Every leader needs strong followers to get anything done, but that strength comes from the confidence of knowing that you are a leader in your own way. You are not following to follow, but you are following because you believe in the leader’s ideas and you know you can step up and lead if you disagree.

I built my confidence as captain of the academic quiz bowl team. There is nothing more terrifying to me than being tested in front of people whose jobs are to score your mistakes. I had to do that, and I had to have the guts to tell other people they should try it too.

There are many other benefits to student leadership that I can’t talk about in a single blog post like teamwork, interpersonal skills, responsibility, organizational skills and communication. Bottom line is that I think every student needs experience in a meaningful leadership position where they have the resources ability to make the change they want to make. That’s just how I grow best as a student and become life-ready.



Student's View: First Week and First Impressions

(Views On Leadership) Permanent link

Student's View: First Week and First Impressions

By Tatiana Le, student intern, AASA, The School Superintendents Association   

AASA Internship As a rising sophomore at a liberal arts college pursuing an English B.A. and looking to teach after graduating, I embody the stereotype of the starving college snowflake destined to be paid less than my STEM counterparts for a job I find “fulfilling.”  

    As such, I rushed to apply for an internship with AASA, The School Superintendents Association, in hopes of receiving solid work experience related to my interests. AASA is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders in the United States and it serves its members in different capacities from informational newsletters to advocacy.  

    This week was my first week here at my first internship ever. My internship is twofold; I work with two supervisors, Jay Goldman, editor of the School Administrator, and Gayane Minasyan, director of online technologies, on a variety of tasks from reviewing manuscript to sending alerts through the AASA mobile app. This week has been a learning experience above all else as I slowly adapt to the new environment.  

    On the magazine side, I’ve learned a lot about the process a manuscript goes through, from the author’s discovery of the AASA author guidelines to the final publication. I had the opportunity to read rejected and accepted manuscripts and the feedback each manuscript received from the staff. A decision can take months and some manuscripts take years to get published because of factors like lack of an appropriate theme.   

    I also had the chance to sit in on a monthly magazine meeting with the designer to select photography and digital artwork for the August edition. So much goes into the production of a single magazine. The article lineup has to make sense before any of the designing can take place. Then there has to be balance between artwork and photos. Some photos aren’t bright enough, high quality enough or have too much empty space. Some artwork is too expensive, needs to be commissioned or doesn’t fit stylistically. It’s a long process full of troubleshooting.  

    The online technologies side is just as complicated. With over 14 websites to manage, two national newsletters and a sizable social media presence, there’s constantly information to find and share. My first glimpse of AASA’s social media usage came from Deanna Atkins, digital content manager. I have personal accounts with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, but I never realized what it entails to write for 24,000 plus professionals and keep them engaged on a daily basis. There are so many leadership initiatives, program events, hashtags and people to know when sending a two-sentence tweet. As someone who’s relatively young and supposed to be good with social media, this week has been a reality check.  

    I also enjoyed sitting in on the webinar “How to Work Effectively with School Boards and Search Firms to Advance Your Career” with four women leadersCarmella S. Franco, search consultant (Calif.), Allison Schafer, legal counsel and director of policy, School Boards Association (N.C.), Susan Enfield, superintendent, Highline Public Schools (Wash.) and Patricia E. Neudecker, AASA past president, director of administrative leadership, assistant professor, Alverno College (Wis.). I never knew that only 25% of superintendent applications in North Carolina were women despite the fact women comprise the overwhelming majority of educators. It was enlightening to hear stories of how women accept substandard compensation without looking at previous contracts and advocating for themselves in negotiations.  

    Overall, it’s been an educational week full of new people, technology and office experiences. It can be overwhelming at times considering how new everything is, but I’m looking forward to spending the next two months of summer here.


Ohio Superintendent Gives an A+ to AASA’s Digital Consortium Spring Meeting in St. Louis

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Ohio Superintendent Gives an A+ to AASA’s Digital Consortium Spring Meeting in St. Louis

By Superintendent Marlon Styles

marlon styles - dig consortiumThe AASA Digital Consortium gathered recently at Mehlville School District in St. Louis, Mo., to engage digital thought leaders from across the country. In my first blog ever, I hope you will find my reflections from the professional learning experience as an inspiration for the work you are leading in your districts.

One of the essential questions driving our discussion asked, “How can opportunities to innovate strengthen the local economy?” This group of 40 digital thought leaders explored just that during our time together.

The site visits to Mehlville High School, MOSAIC (Mehlville-Oakville Students Achieve, Imagine and Create) Elementary School, and the Cortex Innovation Community provided the perfect fusion of united efforts to impact not just the economy, but the dreams of people. Opportunities to bring passion to life were evident to everyone.

Mehlville School District, led by superintendent Chris Gaines, has students in all grades investing daily in “passion projects.” Two students at MOSAIC Elementary shared their passion project on the Pacific Ocean. Across the street at Mehlville High School, a group of four students were investigating a crime scene looking at forensics evidence and the psychological state of the suspects.

dig consortium spring 18-blog1It was clear that teachers are facilitators of learning, providing students the opportunity to own and discover their own learning. Almost every student expressed appreciation for opportunities to engage in passion projects. They were truly inspired to pursue their dreams as they credited passion projects as a positive influence in their school community. Students were often heard saying “I can choose from” or “I know that I can” as they responded to questions about their passions.

What if every student across the country could enthusiastically express their life dreams and how their school is giving them opportunities to make those dreams come true? This is happening at Mehlville School District every single day.

The Cortex Innovation Community is an open, flexible incubator for innovators from across the city. It serves as a 24/7 innovation think tank center, giving dreamers a place to accelerate innovation. Entrepreneurial spirits flock to the center to participate in conversations at the Venture Cafe. A sign at the entrance reads “Venture Cafe, St. Louis accelerates the innovation process through spaces, programs and conversations for individuals and organizations to gather and build relationships.” This innovative concept is significantly impacting the revitalization efforts in St. Louis.

Through the AASA Digital Consortium, I became engaged in developing accessible opportunities for students to invest in their passions and dreams. It will be vital to develop synergy among pedagogy, technology and learning spaces to allow these opportunities to inspire students. The Mehlville and MOSAIC students experienced complete ownership of choice in their learning.

This visit inspired me to continue reimagining education. It has challenged me to rethink how we give students access to learning opportunities to engage in their passion projects. I left the experience asking myself, “What would a blend of the Cortex Innovation Community and Mehlville High Schools’ passion projects look like in my district?”

dig consortium spring 18-blog2So, forget everything you know about how we educate students, walk up to a white board and reimagine education in a space such as the Cortex Innovation Community. I know I am immersed in that thinking as a result of my experience with the AASA Digital Consortium.

The conclusion of the professional learning was focused on two IGNITE presentations by Brian Troop (superintendent, Ephrata, Pa., Area School District) and Carol Kelley (superintendent, Oak Park, Ill., Elementary School District 97). Dr. Kelley’s IGNITE presentation was titled Equity4All, and it was inspirational. I close this post with a commitment to help provide all students opportunities to invest in their passions. The time is now to take on this transformative idea for all students. Are you ready to reimagine?

I want to thank Chris Gaines for hosting, Mike Lubelfeld (superintendent, Deerfield, Ill., Public Schools) and Nick Polyak (superintendent, Leyden High School District, Franklin, Ill.) for facilitating, and AASA for supporting the great work of the AASA Digital Consortium.  

I would encourage all AASA members to take the time to read about the various certification and consortia groups offered by AASA.

For more information about the AASA Digital Consortium, visit the AASA website.

Marlon Styles Jr. is the superintendent of Middletown City Schools in Middletown, Ohio.

Lead with Passion,Energy, Focus and Partnership

(Lead To Learn, Digital Consortium) Permanent link

by Michael Lubelfeld, superintendent, Deerfield Public Schools, Ill., and Nick Polyak, superintendent, Leyden High School District 212, Ill.

polyak digital consortium fall 17The purpose of the AASA Digital Consortium is to support school district administrators as they scale successful models in support of engaging, effective learning experiences using digital media in order to be the leading national voice for digital innovation in our nation’s public schools.

We have often written about the power and value of professional associations. We are grateful to the coaching, guidance, mentorship, feedback and opportunities that these associations afford leaders in the practice of education.

As co-directors of the AASA Digital Consortium we have the honor of gathering with 40-50 superintendents and educational leaders from around the nation in support of leading digital innovation in our nation’s schools. Since 2014, the consortium has visited exemplar school districts from coast to coast (Maryland, California, North Carolina, Illinois and Washington, and our next visit in April 2018 will be to Missouri).

Typically, we engage with a team of superintendents and school leaders for two days of intense leading, learning, fellowship and calls to action. Key to the influence and success of the Digital Consortium are friends like Horace Mann, Discovery Education, Google, Google Chicago, Education Reimagined, McGraw Hill, Fuel Education, Rethink Education and other leaders in the edtech space.

lubelfeld digital consortium fall17

We work through exercises and planning under the powerful frameworks for leadership and change like the one found in Education Reimagined. We have worked with thought leaders from around North America as we support one another on the journey toward change management and maximized impact of digital transformation.

During our visits, tweets are shared under the #AASA_DigitalConsortium. Our challenge and charge as a group of leaders is to continue to lead with passion, energy, focus and partnership. As critical friends, we affirm that which is good and best, and we constructively critique that which can be made better.

AASA will feature blog posts from the various leadership consortia as part of its ongoing outreach and support of leadership and education. In addition, through partnerships with the Center for Digital Education and Discovery Education, for example, a number of case studies and white papers have been written by or about Digital Consortium leaders.

Mike Lubelfeld is the superintendent of Deerfield Public Schools in Deerfield, Ill. Nick Polyak is the superintendent of Leyden High School District 212 in Franklin Park, Ill. Lubelfeld and Polyak serve as co-chairs of AASA’s Digital Consortium and co-moderate  #Suptchat, a monthly, hour-long conversation via Twitter that engages superintendents and other school system leaders worldwide about the most critical issues in education. The program occurs on the first Wednesday of every month, beginning at 8 p.m. (ET). 

AASA & Transformational Leadership – What is It About?

(Lead To Learn, Aspiring Superintendents) Permanent link

AASA & Transformational Leadership – What is It About?

By: Dr. Dana T. Bedden


dana bedden headshotHave you ever been part of a group where someone provides a clear vision of the goals and make everyone feel enthusiastic and energized? Then you were in luck because you worked with a transformational leader.

Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to facilitate workshops with colleagues on behalf of AASA related to transformational leadership. Within the two groups, the West Virginia New/Aspiring Superintendents Academy and AASA/Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy are current and future leaders engaged in critical thinking to improve not only their skills but the future of education for our students and problem solving to develop a stronger pipeline of new school leaders. One significant benefit for me serving as a facilitator is the exchange of knowledge - not only what I am able to share, but also what I receive from the community of professionals participating in the academies. As part of the learning process, I begin to reflect on my own leadership style and understanding of transformational leadership. Because of this experience, I decided to not only review the information we are using as part of the workshops, but also other sources of information to continue to grow my own leadership capacity. Education Reimagined provides a publication entitled, A Transformational Vision for Education in the U.S. As part of the introduction of who the organization is and what they believe, the following is stated:

"SIMPLY PUT, the current system was designed in a different era and structured for a different society. Our economy, society, and polity are increasingly at risk from an educational system that does not consistently prepare all children to succeed as adults and is least effective for the children facing the greatest social and economic challenges."

Transformational leadership is a type of leadership that inspires positive changes to those who follow. Transformational leaders are enthusiastic, passionate, and energetic. They are not just concerned about completing the task but also focused on helping all members of the group to become successful.

What is Transformational Leadership?

James MacGregor Burns is often credited with introducing the concept of transformational leadership. He was a presidential biographer and leadership expert. According to him, you can see transformational leadership at work when followers and leaders help each other to achieve higher levels of motivation and morale.

Transformational leaders can inspire their followers to change perceptions, motivations, and expectations to achieve common goals. They earn the respect, admiration, and trust from their followers.

Elements of Transformational Leadership

Let’s consider four elements of transitional leadership. These are intellectual stimulation, inspirational motivation, individualized consideration, and idealized influence.

Intellectual Stimulation – Transformational leaders encourage followers to be more creative and think outside the box. The leader allows followers to find innovative ways of doing tasks, and explore new avenues of learning.

Inspirational Motivation – Transformational leaders have a clear vision of how to achieve a goal, and can express it to their followers in an articulate manner. They try their best to help their followers get the same motivation and passion to achieve the goals of the group.

Individualized Consideration – Leaders provide personalized encouragement and support to individual members of the team. They will keep communication lines open so that team members can share ideas to them. In doing so, transformational leaders provide direct recognition of the individual contributions of each member.

Idealized Influence – Lastly, transformational leaders serve as the role model of their team members. Members will try to copy the example of their leader because they truly respect and trust the person.

Positive Effects of Transformational Leadership

Studies have shown that transformational leadership has a positive effect on the team. When led by a transformational leader, the group achieves higher levels of satisfaction and performance compared to one with another leadership type.

Transformational leaders believe in their members and know they can perform their best in any given task. In turn, members of the group feel empowered and inspired. To become a transformational leader, you need to be optimistic and have a strong vision of the future. You should believe in that vision, and inspire others to do the same.

Some of the traits of a transformational leader include but are not limited to being supportive, trustworthy, passionate, and genuine. These characteristics can motivate members of the team to support your goals because members know their leader has the best interests of the group in mind all the time.

Transformational leadership is an effective type of leadership. However, there are instances where it might not be the right choice. There are cases in which an autocratic or managerial style can provide better direction, especially if some of the followers require more supervision. What separates a great leader from a good one is that the former knows the type of leadership style required by certain situations.



Leaders as Learners

(Lead To Learn, Equality, Aspiring Superintendents) Permanent link

Leaders as Learners

By Dr. Gail Pletnick

gail-pletnick-nce17From ink wells, to pencils, to typewriters, to keyboards, the resources and tools in education continue changing, just as the concepts and skills needed to prepare our students iterates. The world has moved from the industrial era of old, to the information age of today, and is rapidly transitioning to the innovation age of tomorrow. This evolution dictates that our schools must change and transform to prepare our students for their future. Ink wells can’t be used with iPads. Change is a challenge, but the best way to meet a challenge is to drive the change.

So how do we do that as educational leaders? The answer is simple; as leaders, we must continue to be learners. Leaders must be equipped to tackle the challenging questions associated with the necessary changes in the educational landscape. How should we redefine the profile of a graduate who is future ready? How do we redesign our teaching and learning environments to ensure each student gains the knowledge, skills and dispositions necessary to be successful?  How do we re-imagine our educational systems for the information and innovation eras? The skills and dispositions our students must be armed with to take on the challenges and opportunities before them, are the same skills and dispositions we, as educational leaders, need to learn and apply as we drive change. We cannot all be experts in everything, but we can be leaders in those things we are passionate about. Professional development for leaders must be personalized to meet the individual needs and passions of the leader. It must be a system that drives growth, a system that enriches the individual and is built on a foundation that creates structures to support change. That personalized approach not only creates the best learning environment for each of our students, but is what best meets the professional needs of the adult learners in our systems.

In my district, Dysart Unified School District, we are committed to personalizing learning for our students. We recognize for that vision to become a reality, we must support the growth of our educators. That growth of leaders as learners can be supported through a variety of personalized professional development options. Dysart District is working to expand leadership learning and capacity through personalized staff development options such as, our  Your CALL initiative,  Dysart U, Menu Mondays and other internal efforts. Additionally, we encourage our leaders to work collaboratively with educators from across this country who are innovating and driving the transformation we must see in our schools. AASA’s Personalized Learning Cohort and Digital Consortium are two examples of opportunities for leaders to work collaboratively, on critical problems of practice utilizing creative and supportive approaches. It is valuable to learn from people who have a similar focus and challenge, but bring unique perspective and ideas on implementing their vision. The AASA supported cohorts provide opportunities for personalized professional development that inspires the leader as a learner.   

Critical Friends Come Together in Chicago

(Lead To Learn, Equality, Aspiring Superintendents, Digital Consortium) Permanent link

Critical Friends Come Together in Chicago

By Yelena Minasyan



The AASA Digital Consortium, held July 27-29 in Chicago, brought together dozens of superintendents, assistant superintendents, and school technology directors from across the country to share ideas about using digital media to reimagine ways of teaching and learning to enhance student outcomes.

Nick Polyak, superintendent of Leyden High School District 212, and Michael Lubelfeld, superintendent of Deerfield Public Schools District 109, welcomed all educators as their respective districts served as co-hosts of the consortium.

The group visited West Leyden High School on the first day of the meeting to learn about the district’s Tech Support Internship (TSI). Students who enroll in TSI acquire hands-on technology experience, and provide tech support to teachers and students. On the same day, attendees visited the metal lab, which prepares future engineers by building their expertise through machinery.

The second day of the consortium had an early start—the first stop was West Leyden High School where Jaime Casap, education evangelist at Google, served as keynote speaker. Throughout the inspirational speech, he discussed how the future is today. Lubelfeld tweeted, “The future is TODAY education for today. The present is a gift.” Casap also explained how “computer science is in everything we do. STEM jobs are going to increase rapidly within the next couple years and positions are going to be needed to fill them.” He raised the question “How do we prepare kids for their future?”

Everyone was excited to visit Google’s Chicago office later that day. The interior design of the building was very impressive- it was filled with vibrant furniture with a relaxed atmosphere. Many superintendents indicated they would like to see this kind of atmosphere in their schools. Students from Leyden High Schools joined the meeting and were interviewed by group members. The students' responses were consistent across the room; it was apparent they want to have a voice in the way they learn. During the workshop, superintendents were able to prepare for their “ignite sessions” which occurred on the final day of the meeting

On Day No. 3, administrators attended Deerfield School District 109 and observed STEAM labs. Solar panels on the outside of the buildings made the school more energy efficient. Alabama Superintendent Trey Holladay shared images of the lab on twitter, noting "moveable walls, measuring floors, [and] interactive cameras.” The student's voice is critical when making decisions how to reimagine the learning spaces.

During the meeting, superintendents learned new ways about how they can implement these ideas into their school districts. They will share the results in October at the next Digital Consortium, which will take place in San Francisco.



To keep up with the Digital Consortium, access:


Yelena Minasyan, AASA Intern, Student at George Mason University, Global Community Health



Amen's All Around

(Lead To Learn, Urban Superintendents, Aspiring Superintendents) Permanent link

"Amen"s All Around

  By Mollie Sherman


 It’s always a pleasure to hear passion in people’s voices as they speak on something they truly believe in- my week with the West Coast cohort indulged me time and time again as Superintendents from across the country shared their stories. There was a warmth of comradery in the air as peers turned in their seats to listen to each other formulate ideas and hypothesize initiatives to further their district’s learning. They challenged each other to become truly 21st century educators, and each superintendent rose to the occasion with resolve to bring positive and lasting change to the education our children receive in the public school system. Daniel Cox, Superintendent of the Charles City Community School District in Iowa, spoke to the spirit of this resolution during an activity centered around technology integration as he shared his view of the superintendent’s unique role to “engage, empower, and inspire” their districts.

The personal note of experience inflecting each of their shared thoughts touched on the drive to persevere. A handful of superintendents presented their “Leadership Stories” of growth, highlighting the curves in the path of their lives that brought them to this position of leadership that allows them to enact continuous, bettering transformation. Many spoke of their parents or family influencing their belief in the value of education- it was incredible to note how many of the superintendents in the room had parents that had barely completed their college education, and some even high school. Michael Muñoz, Superintendent of Rochester Public Schools in Minnesota, shared with the cohort words from his father that stay with him to this day: “Education is a key.” Muñoz, who earlier spoke on some of his experiences growing up as a person of color, expanded on his father’s words, stating that for him it became obvious that “with an education I have a key to open any door to be whatever I want to be.”

At the session’s end, a resounding ‘amen’ surrounded the re-energizing and affirming nature of these sessions that leave the cohort feeling confident and prepared to better serve their districts’ well-being. As Larry Perondi, program mentor and former Superintendent of Oceanside Unified School District in California vocalized in his closing remarks, the commitment and passion of educational leaders was evident in the room, and I was truly fortunate to have witnessed such a significant meeting of academic collaboration.