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December 18, 2014

Leading Among Peers

by Chris Lindholm

imagesA week ago I had the privilege of leading a work session with our District Leadership Team to reflect on our growth over the past 6 months, to assess our progress on district and school improvement goals, and to update our action plans for the next 3 months.  It’s year one in our district for implementing the Marzano Art and Science of Teaching Framework and embracing the work of a true Professional Learning Community.  It was a productive day for our teams, and I was once again reminded about how challenging it can be to serve as a teacher leader among peers and friends.

During my second year of teaching I was asked to lead several professional development sessions tied to shifting towards standards-based instruction.  I worked with our staff development team for weeks preparing the activities of the day and felt the pressure as we facilitated a not so perfect session one afternoon.  I vividly remember returning to my classroom after everything was over to find a very long, blistering email from a colleague in my own department.  I remember the sting like it was yesterday.  Why would a colleague, who I had always gotten along with, make such an effort to take hurtful shots at me for doing what I was asked to do?  I was 23 years old and had much to learn about how and why people strike out from their own place of hurt and challenge.  On that day I felt the sting all teachers feel when their teaching or leadership is criticized with brash, hurtful language, and I learned in a deep way just how personal this work is.

The teacher leaders who participated in our District Leadership Team (DLT) work session last week engaged in a good deal of courageous debate over how far we could get in implementation of the Marzano framework during 2014-15.  Fortunately, our group included both “visionary, we can tackle anything” type leaders and also leaders who spoke for the those who have been hurt or run through the ringer on past initiatives that came and went.  The tension was positive and exposed that some teams in our district are well underway in the journey while others can’t have a safe professional discussion yet.  This is true everywhere I have worked – but it was important for our team to get that on the table as a reality to be dealt with rather than avoiding the truth hiding in some closet.  Our teacher leaders last week demonstrated care for their peers, passion for doing what is right, and the courage to lay it all on the table.

I am proud of how much our District Leadership Team has grown over the past 6 months.  One of the protocols we’ve put in place at the end of every work session is called the “Elevator Speech.”
We rotate partners several times and practice giving a 30 second response to the famous “why are we doing this?” or “what is this all about?” questions. Compass Pointing the Way to Leadership in Business Teacher leaders need a safe place to practice those responses and a place to process the real, authentic answers that don’t just pass blame along to an administrator or the state department or a new law.  We are leading our faculty to implement the collaborative and instructional practices that research makes clear will improve student achievement.  While we don’t need a law or anyone else to tell us to do this, we do need to practice communicating “the why” so we speak with a common voice, and our team gets tighter with every work session.

I ran into a leadership blog recently that I’ve come to enjoy and seek out on a regular basis.  To all my colleagues – whether a teacher leader, a principal, a superintendent, or a leader in some other role – the Giant Worldwide blog offers excellent, challenging posts that will help you grow in 2015. My goal in 2015 is to support our teacher leaders and administrators as they cultivate a district culture that inspires risk taking, models vulnerability, and ultimately closes the gap between our daily practice and the research on effective schools and effective instruction.  2015 is going to be a great year in #ISD186!!!








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