Tag Archives: education

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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“Life-Long Learner”

How many times have we all heard the phrase, “life-long learner” referring to: 1) what’s listed in educators’ personal philosophies of education, 2) what’s listed on an educator’s resume, or 3) what we want our students to become/remain?  Sometimes in the daily grind of being a school leader, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of “urgent” managerial, student, community and instructional issues; perhaps one uses the term in a sarcastic and jaded way, since many school leaders in general and teachers feel scrutinized by the general public and already feel like they don’t have enough time to complete all the requirements of the job, nonetheless be “life-long learners.”

When I was preparing to be a school leader, I heard this phrase over and over again in coursework, indicating what school leaders should be and how to promote a culture of professional and life-long learning among faculty and students.  And while everything I learned at that time was valuable information, I was surprised to learn how hard it was to accomplish this quickly in a school.

It wasn’t until I was in my 4th and 5th year as a school administrator that I finally learned some unexpected lessons about how to promote life-long learning.  The first was to listen.  Teachers were telling me of “new” and “innovative” ways to seek professional development and support.  The Media Center Specialist introduced me to Twitter, which has been a very unexpected delight of support and professional resources for me over the past 4 years.  I am thankful that I had collaborative relationships built with staff members and teachers whereby it was never uncomfortable for me to learn from them, even though in the hierachical sense, I was “above” them.

I didn’t fully understand the power of simple modeling.  If I found a resource, I shared it; it just made sense to pass it along as applicable.  As I became more active on Twitter, I didn’t push people to join or participate.  I simply showed them the value of it for me professionally, which encouraged other people to participate.  Even now, I still have former colleagues, teachers, students, etc, who will trade resources with me, via Twitter or otherwise, because together with former colleagues, a collaborative learning network has been established through various means.  This is a great unexpected joy that I never anticipated when I was preparing to be a principal, as I’ve held a few different positions in a few schools (and now at a university) and accumulated many former colleagues.  Being a life-long learner doesn’t necessarily have to be listed in a mission statement or posted on the wall (although it often helps), but what’s most important is that it’s lived.  As a school leader, that in itself will encourage others around you to do the same.

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Feel Goods, Part III

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.

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