Many of us, as we completed coursework through our principal preparation programs, really didn’t understand fully the concepts of collaboration. I worked to prepare as a school leader at the institution where I now serve as coordinator of that same principal preparation program, and even though we were deeply entrenched in the philosophy of collaborative leadership (and the current students still are), one really can’t fully understand the implications of this until in an administrative position, having to negotiate the nuances of major or “minor” changes that are made from year to year during the summer months.
Whenever I have the opportunity to encourage a principal candidate to complete an internship experience in the summer, I highly encourage this due to what I’m describing above. The work that occurs among the school and district leaders during the summer work is important (vital in fact), grueling, patience-requiring and often a little contentious until the team is able to come to an agreement. Like working in collaboration with students and teachers, the administrators, most of whom have years of experiences and thoughtful ideas about what decisions will have the highest impact on student learning and growth, have to also “play nice in the sandbox” and learn to allow the spaces for each individual to move past the positions but get to the root of why a certain rule should be different or what professional development will be planned for teachers. Furthermore, the issue of student scheduling is very challenging (especially at the high school level) and different administrators come to the situation with differing expertise and beliefs about learning to guide them.
The challenge comes in school leadership when members of the leadership team are operating under multiple sets of values. Finding the compatibility and the integration of ideas is REALLY challenging when one thought process is looking solely toward school improvement (i.e. improving student test scores to make AYP) as opposed to individual student growth. It reminds me of the different camps in the research field, some only finding that qualitative has value and some finding that only quantitative is valuable. Like integrating the different values of members of a leadership team, one also has to find a balance in the type of research utilized in districts and schools in the decision making process.
With all the emphasis on teacher and administrator effectiveness in the news right now, one would think that it’s a very stressful time to work in education. Folks like me in higher ed. also are starting to be targeted as not preparing teachers and school leaders properly. It makes it wasy for all of us in education to get caught up in the negativity we are bombarded with on a daily basis.
However, I am reminded about how many “feel good” moments there really can be, working in schools as teachers and leaders. I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but as a school leader, one can truly never be prepared for the unexpected demonstrations of thanks (albeit few and far between sometimes) from parents and/or students.
A couple days ago, I attended a high school graduation at the school where I was most recently a principal. Most of these students completed their freshmen and sophomore year with me as a principal at the school. Some of these students had been there 3 years prior to me leaving and persevered to graduate with the class of 2013.
I attended this particular graduation because I had forged some deep relationships with some of these students, and it was important to me that I be there to witness and support the event that marks the successful completion of the high school experience. As I drove to the ceremony, I had a few specific students in mind who I knew I needed to seek out specifically and let them know how proud I was.
Attending this particular graduation ceremony was so much more of a joy than I ever would have expected. The warm welcome from the faculty was an added bonus. I’ve really missed my former colleagues, and it was great to hear updates about their lives in and out of the school. I was then able to see the graduates prior to the ceremony starting. The energy of students who are truly proud of accomplishing a high school diploma is unmatched. I was so pleasantly welcomed by many of them, too, not just the ones who had been in the forefront of my brain as I was driving to the event. The “icing on the cake” of it all was when a parent approached me after the ceremony, saying that she was so thankful I had attended the graduation as she had a small token of appreciation for me in the part I had played in helping her son attain his educational goals.
To the graduating class, their parents and the faculty of my former school where I last served as a principal, I give my deepest thanks and gratitude for the sincere welcome I received from all. When a school leader and now as someone who prepares school leaders, I’ve always recognized that there is a power to the relationships built among members of a school community, and research has demonstrated a correlation between positive relationships and student acheivement. However, I felt truly humbled and honored at the treatment I received that night from the members of my former school community, and the feelings associated with the circumstances are such that no one can ever be prepared for the experience.