Monthly Archives: November 2013

What’s School For & What Does That Mean for Professional Development

In a powerful TEDx talk, Seth Godin asked “What is school for?”  (Click on this link to view; it’s sure to stretch your mind: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXpbONjV1Jc).  As I was preparing to be a school leader and even acting in the role my first year or so, I don’t think I recognized how important it was to explore this question as a school entity to make sure that everyone in a building had a pretty clear understanding of it collectively.  Without a collective answer to this question, how can students know what’s expected?  How can faculty and staff help them reach the nebulous and inconsistent target?

Godin points out that “What school is for,” is changing rapidly.  No longer do we need to model schools after factories, because so few students’ paths will take them to work in factories anymore.  No longer is it important to receive or produce “1 size fits all” products (graduates). 

One could certainly argue, perhaps rightfully so, that the reform movement, with the emphasis on standardized testing and school personnel being evaluated primarily on the results, is creating a more incongruous set of experiences for students by enforcing such strict adherence to certain guidelines on one hand and asking teachers to be innovative and project-based on the other hand.

Godin discussed some implications for professional development, as many others of my #SAVMP colleagues have also done in their recent posts.  I agree that it’s vital to help teachers understand the use of technology to enhance lessons and the use of data to inform instruction, in a way that meets the individual teacher’s needs.  No longer relevant is the model of professional development of having “expert” speakers coming into schools as maybe it once was.  As school leaders, having relationships to know what’s needed by the staff members of your building is necessary.  This can take the form of surveying them.  It also takes the form of just being in classrooms and knowing what’s happening and knowing your in-building experts on certain topics who can assist peers with during professional development time.  What’s additionally important is the leader being transparent in knowing what they don’t know, and being willing to share and announce their own growth (and blunders).

One such example of this sticks in my memory, because I’ve had colleagues from my last K-12 position remind me of it from time to time.  Apparently, according to others, this particular PD session was relevant to many people and made a lasting impression.  I had recently dealt with a situation that required some individual attention paid to a particular staff member in reference to working with ELL students.  In the process of talking to students in our ESL program, I discovered a trend of these particular students feeling very disenfranchised and unwanted due to certain actions (probably inadvertent, but still concerning) from multiple staff members and teachers in the building.

In order to address the issue, during a faculty meeting, I shared a story about myself as a teacher, when I had been extremely insensitive to one of my first ever ELL students.  In being willing to be transparent about my own weaknesses and mistakes, I was also able to reach some faculty members who perhaps wouldn’t have heard the message as clearly had I simply told them more tips about working with ELL students.

Transparency and openness in a leader, plus her continued example of professional learning, provide the exemplar for the rest of the teachers, staff and then students.  This helps the personnel of school buildings and communities jointly answer the question, “What’s school for?”

 

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Parents – Being Proactive

This week’s suggested post for the #SAVMP program relates to parents and all the ways that school leaders work to involve them. The research is clear; parental involvement has been correlated with student achievement in many circumstances. Originally, as a high school teacher, I was used to struggling with getting parents involved in my classes. By holding students accountable, I ended up calling parents a great deal. One parent said to me on the phone one time,” I’m tired of your phone calls. ‘Johnny’s’ work WILL be done from now on.” I never had to call them again 🙂

As a new administrator, I never imagined some of the challenges that I would face in regards to getting in contact with parents and having them involved in their students’ school lives, etc. By year 4 (in my 2nd administrative position), I finally had a lightbulb go off in reference to being proactive in working with “frequent flyers” (students who earned repeated discipline referrals) and their families.

In this 4th year of being in administrative roles, I returned to a school where I once taught. Upon my starting in July, I was presented with the lengthy list of frequent flyers from the year before. I was determined that this would be a different year for these students and their families. So, instead of waiting for that first contact with the parent to be because of the first discipline referral I was proactive and called in the summer. I said something like this to each parent:

“Hello, I’m your student’s new principal. I’m calling many different families to introduce myself and find out how I can serve you this coming school year. I understand that ____________________ had a tough year last year, but since we all want to support your student, I know there are ways in which we can work together to help prevent problems before they start.”

While not every on of those students stayed off the “frequent flyer” list, being proactive with parents and developing relationships with them prior to the student getting in trouble did, on an anecdotal level, make it so the student didn’t make that list often and/or that student earned better learning consequences for those actions from teacher/parent teams which served to help students make better choices in the future.

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Management As A Principal

When I was preparing to be a school leader, I had hoped that I would be able to lead in a way that meant I wasn’t like a “manager.”  That word connotes some less than savory images, especially when one hopes to lead organizations in a way that inherently recognizes and supports the leadership within all staff members dependent on specific tasks and overall job.  However, I wasn’t truly expecting the many ways in which I had to balance being a “leader” with being a “manager”.  What I learned over time was that being a good manager complemented collaborative leadership and also allowed teachers to do what they do best with fewer distractions.  Managing my own schedule as a school administrator was a way in which I could attend to management tasks but also work within my own vision framework and be that instructional leader that is so vital.

I can think of one example specifically.  I tried to rarely spend time in my office, even when I was in administrative positions where I had to manage student discipline.  If one lets it happen, it can be very easy to get into a pattern of dealing with discipline 24/7, calling students out of class to the office to talk about discipline infractions.  Fundamentally, I had severe reservations dealing this way with students and their disciplinary infractions.  Most of all, it went against my vision of being proactive, spending time in classrooms with students and teachers.  In managing my time and the discipline referrals, I carried a clipboard.  Every morning (as it was my norm to be in the building by 6am) I would strategically plan my walk through observations for the day to correspond to certain students I also needed to see in reference to a discipline issue.  (*a side note to this would be that this only works with certain kids and certain types of infractions AND the administrator doing this needs to have built the relationships with students and teachers where they understand you will often be present in classrooms).  Students missed less class time when I went to them, which supported my philosophy on keeping students in the classrooms as much as possible and the idea that the learning is paramount to anything else happening in a school.  Also, my (or any administrator’s) presences and visibility automatically helps to prevent issues before they become major problems. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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