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Leadership Best Practices

Six Elements of Successful Schools — Collaboration is Key

December 1st, 2022

Successful schools make for successful students. But what makes a school successful? While there is some room for debate, highly effective schools tend to have a few key factors in common, including creating collaborative and supportive environments that allow both students and staff to reach their full potential. Taking steps to shift school climate is critical to helping youth thrive.

When it comes to transforming your school district, the steps below are a great place to start and will help get your schools moving in the right direction!

School leader

Build Positive Relationships

One of the most important contributing factors to creating effective schools is fostering cultures of cross-functional collaboration. In fact, studies have shown that prioritizing collaboration and partnerships can boost teacher retention and empowerment while driving student achievement, even in school districts with high poverty rates (NEA, n.d.).

By engaging with the local community, school districts can help ensure students are supported both inside and outside of the classroom. These partnerships work in two directions — families and community members are involved in the school and have a say in the education of the students while schools also ensure that families have access to proper resources to support students at home (Sack-Min, 2018).

Create a Culture of Leadership

When leadership responsibilities and roles are divided among school administrators, teachers, counselors, community members, and other stakeholders, it builds a school culture based on shared accountability and collaborative decision-making (Sack-Min, 2018). This type of school culture leads to improvements in student performance by enabling innovation, adaptability, and room for new ideas. Beyond collaboration, signs of effective leadership include transparent communication, an ability to clearly define and uphold school goals, high visibility, and a solution-focused mindset (Lynch, 2016).

Invest in Professional Development

A team is only as great as its weakest player. Investing the time and resources into professional development for teachers, principals, counselors, and other school staff helps schools succeed. School districts should avoid run-of-the-mill professional development that does little more than check off boxes and instead focus on providing continuous feedback and training to support professional growth. Providing opportunities for teachers to take on both informal and formal leadership roles is also crucial for motivation and empowerment (Sack-Min, 2018).

While hiring graduates from high-quality education programs tends to play a role in overall effectiveness, ongoing professional development has been shown to improve teacher quality regardless of their school of origin (Lynch, 2016). Dobbie & Fryer (2011) argue that identifying and removing ineffective teachers is equally as important as developing teachers who are open to learning and coaching.

Foster Safe and Inclusive Environments

All students are unique, and some students have different needs than others. Creating safe and inclusive environments means providing students with the resources they need to thrive and meeting the needs of LGBTQIA+, minority, disabled, ELL, and other students. Highly effective schools view student differences and diversity as a strength (Sack-Min, 2018). In general, the ability of students to learn and grow socially decreases in unwelcoming and unsupportive settings (NEA, n.d.).

One key factor in developing positive, safe, and supportive school environments is respect. Another is integrating social workers and other trained staff to effectively work with struggling students on behavioral, learning, and other issues (Lynch, 2016).

Provide Comprehensive Support

The most successful schools are those that focus on the whole child, support both in-school and out-of-school needs, and incorporate academic and social-emotional learning (SEL). Creating a more comprehensive approach to student success involves encouraging students to explore their interests, different careers, talents, and more within a supportive environment (Sack-Min, 2018). This can include developing internal and external programs and services that support students in coming to school ready to learn (NEA, n.d.).

Set the Bar High

When school leaders set high expectations of students and teachers, it tends to have a positive impact on the performance of both groups. Teachers have especially been shown to increase performance levels when leaders incorporate professional development strategies focused on instructional improvement (Lynch, 2016).


Overall, collaboration, support, inclusion, and staff preparedness are all key factors that contribute to highly successful schools. Whether your school district has already incorporated a few of these elements or is starting from scratch, even gradually implementing new policies, strategies, and cultural improvements can lead to impactful school changes that set both staff and students up for success.


Dobbie, Will & Fryer, Roland G., Jr. (2011). Getting Beneath the Veil of Effective Schools:
Evidence from New York City. National Bureau of Economic Research. Working Paper.

Lynch, Matthew. (2016). The Five Attributes of Successful Schools. Education Week.

NEA. (n.d.). Great Public Schools. National Education Association.

Sack-Min, Joetta. (2018). Elements of Successful Schools: Schools Succeed When Educators,
Parents, and Communities Collaboration. National School Boards Association (NSBA).

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