Mike Schmoker’s new book Leading with Focus has given me the kick I needed to return to this blog in an effort to ensure our staff in ISD 186 has the clarity that strong leaders provide. Pulling from one of my favorite authors and researchers on organizational effectiveness, he quotes Jim Collins in his book Good to Great – “The real path to greatness, it turns out, requires simplicity and diligence… It demands each of us to focus on what is vital – and to eliminate all of the extraneous distractions.” While I know and believe we are focusing on the right things in our district, I need to be much more intentional about providing ongoing clarity for staff. Quoting Marcus Buckingham’s 2005 work Schmoker states, “Clarifying the organization’s priorities is the leader’s single most important job.”
While it seems there is a common call for more time to collaborate in all school districts, those who dig into the meaningful work of true collaboration discover it is far easier to continue working in isolation. The majority of us learned our trade figuring it out as we went through the enduring pains of trial and error. Being isolated in our classrooms was simply the norm, and the true collaborative work described in PLC literature was unheard of. Today we have clear evidence showing the need for real collaboration, yet the work of doing collaboration is much different from the work we have been good at in the past. Digging into showing our results, aligning our instruction with clearly articulated outcomes and common assessments, and engaging in robust action research can feel like an invasion of one’s craft. The truth we all know deep inside however, is that collaborating in this way is the real work of excellent teaching. Read more
A 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. Read more
Reposting this post 4 years later. It’s just as applicable today – in a district of 2 sites and 1,600 students… Teaching is indeed a calling!
Communications over the past couple of weeks has made clear that I’m in a different ball game than I was just a few months ago. As a teacher leader and school administrator, I was visible and made person to person connections with nearly every staff member at least weekly if not every day. People saw me on good days, bad days, during pressure, when joking around, and all of the other times in between. This is clearly not possible in the role I now serve in forcing me to reflect quite a bit about leadership strategies and how to make positive change from a different place in the organization.
As a junior high principal 5 years ago I worked with some great teachers who took it upon themselves to make sure their students understood Bloom’s Taxonomy and how it applies to the activities each day in the classroom. Students were asked to hold the teacher accountable for making sure that homework and assessment activities applied to the top 3 layers of the taxonomy. Action phrases and verbs for each layer created a huge wall display of the taxonomy in classrooms, and conversations about why each activity in the classroom was planned for took place in the regular ebb and flow of routine. Did you hear that?!! I can honestly say that students understood the why!! You know… the “why are we doing this???” question that frustrates many-a-teacher? A commitment to being able to answer that question for every pedagogical decision we make – a true commitment to being disciplined in thought and action – is an authentic commitment to being a true professional… A real Professional Learning Community.
Moving from a district of 10,000 students to one of 1,600 students this past year has made me reflect quite a bit on how to structure collaborative teams to do the meaningful work of a Professional Learning Community when there are fewer teachers to team up. The research on effective schools is clear that collaborative teams of teachers focused on common formative assessments and implementation of interventions/enrichments to ensure all students learn at high levels is essential, but how to structure those teams for success is always a challenging leadership question. As often happens, my Twitter feed offered some “just in time professional development” this past week as I ran across an excellent presentation by author and 6th grade teacher Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) focused on this very topic. The ideas and options he shares are relevant to a school or district of any size.
The February 2014 Educational Leadership publication is focused on building school morale and offers several articles reflecting on how to cultivate positive spirits in a school staff. The timing is superb… I note on my calendar at the beginning of February every year to brace for the mid-year slump. While I’m convinced it has a good deal to do with the lack of daylight and cold weather here in northern MN, I also agree Megan and Bob Tschannen-Moran that “bolstering school morale is a primary school improvement strategy” (pg. 38). School leadership teams need to assess, plan for, implement action plans to address, and progress monitor the emotional pulse of the larger school team just as an effective coach of an athletic team or the director of musical must do. An emotionally flat team simply cannot perform well while one wrapped up in the positive synergy of real, results oriented school improvement can knock it out of the park.
Sitting at a twelve team wrestling tournament today prompted me to dig out a post from several years ago about the assembly line system of education that has dominated our classrooms for the past 100+ years. Even with nine mats being used continuously and a remarkable effort to run an efficient and well-organized tournament, each student was engaged in competition for a total of 2 – 6 minutes in a 4 hour time frame. Spread around the gym was several hundred boys — 9 were engaged and the other 99% were bored silly. They were participating in a beautifully designed lesson for learning how to wait in line and deal with boredom.
A presentation I listened to last week by Kim Gibbons, Executive Director of the St. Croix River Education District, brought me back to a great synthesis of education research that I wrote about in a 2011 post. Her main argument was that the best thing we can do to better serve our students with special needs is to improve core instruction – what happens in our classrooms to meet the needs of all students. She presented John Hattie’s research with polish and focused on a simple question and my ongoing soapbox – how do we better align our practices with what research says is best practice?
Last Thursday I had the pleasure of helping to facilitate our third quarter District Leadership Team retreat. The largest part of the day was spent in a three group rotation sharing our 2013-14 focus for district-wide work in curriculum, assessment, and professional development so Building Leadership Teams can begin planning for the year ahead. The first two hours however, was my opportunity to engage all principals, two teachers from each school, and all district level directors, coordinators, and leaders (80+ people!!) in a celebration of our progress over the past couple of years and a look forward to the work ahead aligning all aspects of the district with our strategic plan. We began in small groups discussing chapter 8 of Learning By Doing and reflecting on our progress implementing a district-wide professional learning community. My journey with this group of leaders began two and a half years ago with a study of this book to begin grounding us in some common language, and it was refreshing to come back to it to check-in and see how far we’d come.