Vulnerable Leadership

New results suggest that practicing vulnerable leadership can produce transformational school improvement

UChicago Impact works with thousands of schools across the country to improve student outcomes with research-based tools and professional learning. Promising new results from UChicago Impact’s work with partner schools suggests ‘vulnerable leadership’—in which principals and teachers alike lead by reflecting honestly and openly on their mistakes and shortcomings—can have transformational consequences. Two Chicago Public Schools worked closely with UChicago Impact to use new trainings and workshops designed to access vulnerability in their work and strengthen student-teacher trust. Compared to Chicago Public Schools’ district-wide 1-point improvement in the same period, these two schools improved by 8 and 10 points, respectively, on the student-teacher trust measure of the 5Essentials Survey—a school climate survey based on more than 20 years of research that found schools strong on three or more of the 5Essential components were ten times more likely to improve student learning gains.

Vulnerability is essential for creating a space for change, yet in an era of high-stakes, data-driven accountability, it is deeply counter-cultural and more often punished than rewarded. UChicago Impact and its school partners’ work around vulnerable leadership demonstrates what is possible when school leaders open themselves up to not only looking at their data but also openly reflecting on what it reveals about their schools to identify opportunities to improve outcomes for students.