Monthly Archives: December 2013

Parental Involvement – How do we reach them?

When I was preparing to work as a school leader (back in the early 2000’s), I never could have imagined beyond my wildest dreams that we would be working in between the technological and face-to-face spaces that we are each day with students, parents, employees, and the greater community.  Any of us preparing for this work before a couple years ago have really had to play catch-up in learning quickly about these environments and their intersection.

Let’s face it, though.  Some conversations and news need to be delivered through a phone call or face-to-face conversation (individual students’ academic and emotional progress, for example).  I think, though, there are lots of ways that technology can enhance the relationships with families.  I had a blog as a high school principal where I would highlight academic, athletics and other accomplishments of students periodically.  I know of a local superintendent who uses twitter to also highlight great things about his district, but he also uses it to highlight educational issues that impact the district and the community as a whole.  I’m starting to see lots of districts use twitter as a place to post schedule changes, announcements, highlights, etc.

By utilizing these tools, it can also keep us in touch with what the community members and students are saying…. a window into our customer service, so to speak.  In addition, the school can become a training ground for other adults in the building or community to learn more about these media to have a more accurate understanding of the world our children experience.


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Critical Conversations – Cause No Unnecessary Pain

Many school leaders entered education as idealist teachers, like most everyone else.  Through luck, desire, circumstance, hard work, or likely a combination of those, some have the opportunity to serve their schools as formal leaders of the building.  Along with this awesome opportunity to assist teachers in doing that vital work, the leader has to start to understand how and when it’s necessary to have the “critical conversations” with other professionals.  This can be really challenging, as many school leaders I know (myself included) struggle with conflict and feel uncomfortable when we have to confront our teachers about certain instructional practices or behavior.  During my preparation for being a principal, I don’t recall learning in great detail how to handle these situations.  It’s a real learning-by-doing skill to effectively and humanely confront other professionals.

Discovering a theoretical framework, though, helped me in learning when and how to have these conversations.  Nel Noddings, a wonderful educator and prolific writer on the ethics of care in education once stated that any grown-up, in thinking about a decision related to the education and well-being of a child should ask “Is this necessary?”  as all educators should aim to, “cause no unnecessary pain, separation or helplessness.”  This became a simple litmus test for me as a school leader.  If unnecessary pain, separation or helplessness were happening to any student in my school, then it was my job to have the necessary critical conversation to end that.  Period.


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Being a Respected Instructional Leader

Credibility as an instructional leader is paramount.  While I don’t discourage professionals who’ve held non-instructional positions in schools from beginning principal preparation programs, I am very clear with them that they will have to work harder to build that credibility amoung teachers.  Let’s face it: if you haven’t been there, done that, then you don’t have the credibility.

Even sometimes when you have been a very respected teacher in one setting, if you become a school leader, you have a lot of work to do in building that credibility as an instructional leader.  I wasn’t prepared during my own principal preparation for how much I would really be challenged by some veteran teachers to prove myself as a good teacher.

Context is important here too.  I had my first assistant principal position, at a high school, when I was 30 years old, AND I had to work very hard to make myself appear even that old due to my baby face.  Top that off with being a new entitity in a large county school district, and there you have the recipe for some initial complications.  The next part of the context that’s important was that at the time, this district was starting to look at the correlation (or lackthereof) between course grades and standardized test scores.  In addition, there was concern at the state level where I was working about the perceived overinflation of teacher evaluation scores.  Sound familiar??  This was almost 10 years ago.

As someone who worked very hard as a teacher to always make sure my students were engaged in meaningful work, I ended up having some interesting evaluations of teachers that first semester as an assistant principal.  I distinctly remember having one of my reports challenged to the building principal, as this teacher had never earned anything but the highest ratings on the observation tool of the time.  (A student was sleeping in class and remained so for quite some time without intervention or concern expressed by the teacher).  I certainly wasn’t wrong in my assessment of the various instructional concerns revolving around that incident, but over time and context (I ended up as a school leader in the building where I once served as a teacher, and that was a lot easier as far as the credibility piece), but I learned what might be valuable tips by trial and error.

1) When given the opportunity to plan and implement professional development, do it.  And don’t just deliver a lecture every time.  Be the example of good instruction, every single time.

2) Outside of formal observations, get into classrooms.  Often.  Follow-up with the teachers about what you saw.  It demonstrates engagement in their practice and in pedagogy in general.  Even better, you can participate like the students.  I used to visit a Math teacher and take her tests, challenging the students to beat my score.  These are great opportunities to continue to have on-going conversations with teachers AND students about what’s going on in class.

3) Most of all, remember that no matter which observation/evaluation tool is used, the same clinical observation steps continue to apply.

– Talk to the teacher before the lesson.  Find out what’s been troubling them in the classroom.  Offer to observe for that in addition to “filling out the form.”

– Observe.  My opinion is that it shouldn’t need to be announced.  (I realize the new evaluation systems across the country make this a concern for some).  Take good notes, especially watching THE STUDENTS.  Are they actively involved in learning activities?  What evidence tells you this?  Talk to a couple students about what their learning.

-Talk to the teacher after the lesson.  Ask their reflection on the lesson (often they will identify their areas of “growth” before you have to do so).  Offer your praise where appropriate.  Discuss areas of growth and how you as a leader can offer support, guidance, and perhaps thoughts from when you taught.

My experience was that over time, through doing some of the things I mentioned above helped me build credibility as an instructional leader.

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