Change

Start With Teachers

Originally Posted February 2011

I believe that schools are great places, filled with great people, and great learning; but in the complex world of the

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21st century, that’s simply not enough.  Our students deserve better than simply maintaining the status quo.  As a profession, we have a responsibility of becoming “better”.  What does it take to become better?  According to Atul Gawande, it simply “takes a willingness to try”. But where do you start?  What do you try?

I think that Schmoker and Marzano convincingly say, start with the teachers.  Their work clearly links the quality of a teacher with student learning and success.  A year with an ineffective teacher greatly inhibits student learning and achievement.  Two successive years of ineffective instruction is debilitating.  In contrast, a year with a highly effective teacher is very powerful and two successive years with highly effective teachers enables student learning and achievement to soar.  So, what do you do?

You start by being a learning leader.  You start by being a teacher.  I think that everyone in education aspires to be the “highly effective” teachers.  People always want to do their best.  No one wants to be the “ineffective teacher”.  However, like the students in our classrooms and people in every profession, there are varying decrees of competence and excellence.  So where do you start? What do you try?

You start with the positive assumption that teachers are doing the best they can with what they know, and begin to expand the depth and breadth of their knowledge. People are comfortable sticking to what they know and what they know works.  It’s human nature.  Why reinvent the wheel?  So show them something new, something alternative, something better. Show them that “new wheel”!  Share a favourite book. author, website, blog, podcast or resource. It’s unreasonable to expect students to learn something new unless we have shared it with them.  Why should teachers be any different?  Show your colleagues a better possibility and they will more likely to attempt a new instructional practice rather than stick with the familiar and known.

Get teachers working together.  Today’s world is too complex to manage by yourself.  Schools and the work of educators, is no different.  Build schedules that allow for easy collaboration. Include training and staff development on collaboration.  Cooperation is easy.  Collaboration is hard work. People need to know how to participate in a collaborative group, they need to know how to produce an agenda, to come to a decision and communicate it,  to understand the difference between dialogue and discussion.  The work of Robert Garmston with the Center for Adaptive Schools is a great place to start.  Start modeling the use of protocols when working with small and large groups, and gradually begin training the early adapters and informal leaders in your community on their use and purpose.  If you do, Critical Friends Group training will soon follow.

Start getting rid of shared drives, servers, Rubicon Atlas, and cluttered email In boxes.  Begin using Google’s Education Apps in your school.  There are incredible tools at your finger tips, so get exploring.  Google Docs and Google Calendar are simple and effective tools for getting people to work together collaboratively.  Imagine teams of teachers meeting together to purposefully discuss and share ideas about student learning. Tools like Google Docs are great for collaboratively building agendas, sharing nuts and bolts, and keeping the minutes from a meeting at everyone’s finger tips, their true power is in the ability of teams to craft Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings together, to build units of study or collections of shared resources together, and reflect on student learning at anytime, from anywhere.

Be a role model.  Get out of the office.  Get out of the meeting and into the classrooms and hallways.  Make it an uncompromising priority.  Actions speak louder than words.  As the learning leader in your school, start talking to students about learning.  Start talking to teachers about learning.  Engage in these conversations daily. If you do, students and teachers will take notice.  Fiedlwork Education’s “Looking For Learning” has excellent resources and ideas for building this reflective practice.  Soon teachers, students, and all community members will see that learning is the priority, not teaching.  They will see how they are expected to interact with each other.  They will be more likely to visit each other’s classrooms.  We know that providing students with exemplars is an effective instructional practice.  So why not do it with your faculty?  Get your teachers learning from the best, by seeing the best!

If students are the most important people in your school and their learning is the central focus, then what are you doing to make it better?  All you need to do is try.

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

How Does Your Garden Grow?

As a leader in my classroom, I am keenly aware of the culture I want to establish and build throughout the year.  I know that it is my responsibility to make this happen, much like my back yard garden.  At the moment, my backyard garden is in a bit of disrepair. Nothing is doing particularly well.  In moving to Saudi Arabia and settling into a new house, it keeps falling to the bottom of the to do list.   I  know that it is not doing well because I’ve been neglectful.  I’ve provided minimal care, done little to help the garden grow.  I am certainly getting out of my garden what I put into it.  Very little.  I am proud to say that this isn’t the case for the culture in my classroom.  Establishing and then maintaining a learning focused, positive classroom culture has been extremely hard work.  It is flourishing because of the constant attention and persistent effort that I devote to it through recognition, relationships, resources, rewards, and rituals.  In thinking about leadership, I recognize that these principles are easily applicable to a principal’s efforts to develop a culture within their school community or even within smaller collaborative groups.

People inherently crave recognition and positive reinforcement.  It’s the reason why schools are filled with gold stars, Student of the Week, and Honor Rolls.  So as a leader, how to do you routinely recognize what is valued in your community? Do you routinely drop a small note in an email or mail box?  Do you regularly laud and applaud the great people and learning that is taking place, both privately and publicly? There are innumerable forms of recognition.  What is important is that you be specific about what you observed and student learning.

Recognition certainly helps build relationships.  In the ever changing landscape of education in the 21st century, the relationships necessary for effective  collaboration is a key to success. So, as the educational leader in your school, how do you build relationships with and between the colleagues you are working with?  Do you begin meetings with opportunities for people to meet and greet?  Do your routine forms of communication include personal details so that faculty can learn about each other?  Is wandering part of your daily routine?  Wandering the halls, classrooms, yard, and lunchroom has tremendous virtues.    Not only does it enable you to develop relationships, but it also provides you with the opportunity to  encourage collaboration and connect different community members with each other.

The reality of teaching is that no one enters the profession because of the end of year bonuses and plush perks.  But like teachers who use stickers, pencils, and recommendations to help motivate students, principals can harness resources at their disposal for a similar effect with their faculty.  Passing along professional resources is an easy step.  It might simply be a book, an article, or even a website, but their is great power in sharing.  Using deli.ci.ous to building a collective library of learning links is inexpensive tool.  Share your time.  Use it to take a moment to drop off a new resource to a teacher you know might find it of interest or cover a class so that a teacher can attend a particular PD session.  Arrange for your teachers to visit other innovative teachers or schools in your area.  Pass along any invitations or tickets that you might receive.    Connect teachers and classrooms with the greater community … a local historian, athlete, or charity that can support learning.  In the same way that the kindergarten student who proudly leaves school with a pencil they received for their birthday helps contribute to a positive learning environment, by being creative about sharing resources, leaders can achieve similar results in their school.

Recognition and rewards are closely tied together.  Rewards need not be expensive or extravagant.  What is important is that rewards are used to motivate and cultivate a positive culture. Offer Starbucks cards to the first three faculty to submit their report cards.  When interest, energy or enthusiasm drops during a long PD session or difficult faculty meeting take 5 to raffle off a movie pass, potted plant, or even a “Get Out of Recess Duty” pass.  Order subscriptions for the faculty lounge or professional library.  Food is always a hit.  This might be healthy snack during parent conferences, holidays treats in mailboxes, or even little cupcakes to celebrate a colleagues birthday.  Place a bouquet of flowers or potted plant in the office or faculty lounge and then raffle it off or award it to a winner at the end of the day.  LIttle rewards can help brighten the day of just one person or the whole community.  Either way, rewards are a powerful tool in helping a principal develop, maintain or change the culture of their school.

Rituals are an essential piece of a community and of culture. They slowly bring community members together through shared experiences.  Repeated celebrations brings new and old faces in a school together.  They become something that a group of teachers remembers and look forward to.  What do you do to build rituals in your community?  How do you welcome new community members or say good-bye to departing ones?  Do you recognize important milestones like birthdays and other personal celebrations with cakes, flowers, or cards?  What do you to to recognize professional accomplishments?  How do you begin or end meetings …. with sharing, reflection, a reading, or food?  The business world goes to great length to build community identity with bar-b-cues, family picnics, charitable work, or sporting teams (softball, bowling, curling, etc.).  Do you?

As a classroom, team or school leader, you can help develop the culture you desire.  With a little effort, you can establish a positive morale, build strong personal and professional relationships, while highlighting the values of your community.  What gets recognized and rewarded, is what get’s done.

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