Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Every Village Needs A Leader

I am currently overwhelmed right now because there is so much I want to say in response to many articles I have read this week (What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong About Math Education Again and Again, The 'Mathlash' to Silicon Valley's Move Into Education, U.S. Lag in Science, Math A Disaster Waiting to Happen, Seven Misconceptions About How Students Learn) as well as an #edchat twitter forum I participated in yesterday on whether the current hierarchical structure of our education system should be changed, and if so, how. Unfortunately, much of what I want to say would require me to do some research to back up my thoughts.  Honestly, I don't know that my providing evidence that pedagogy and teacher training is more important than the type of technology initiatives implemented, or STEM education is being hindered by funding, classroom size, lack of teacher support and training, or that standardized testing is a major factor in why mathematics education in this country is struggling,would make a difference. I am just another educator voicing the same experience-related opinions and facts as many others.

I have instead decided not to rant, not to politicize, not to tout research and evidence since those do not change the here and now. Instead, I am going to offer some suggestions of things that can be done RIGHT NOW to create a small dent in the current structure that is education. Clearly, starting big, at the top-level isn't the answer right now => we see how well top-down policies have worked (think NCLB). What can we as administrators, teachers, educators control? Our own small environment, one school at a time. I am only thinking of this because of a question I actually posed in the #edchat discussion yesterday related to changing educational decision making and how things are done in schools currently - "So...what is OUR solution? What can WE do? Clearly it is an issue and change takes time, so where to start?"

I say we start small - one school at a time, with a strong leader who is willing to collaborate with his/her teachers, parents, and community to effect real educational change. A great article I found called What It Means to be An Exceptional Leader by Dr. Kim Alyn, sums up nicely what I think should be happening at the school level, even though the article itself was about leadership amongst firefighters. Change in one school can lead to success, which then leads others to follow the example, and so on and so forth...pretty soon, exponential change!  What does that take at this ground level? To quote from the article, it takes a good leader and one who should do the following (the article explore each more fully):
Love what you do
Excel in competency
Act with integrity
Demonstrate accountability
Empower others
Respond humbly
The one I really want to focus on is "empower others", in this case, teachers. I don't think there is enough of that in schools. I am going to end this post with some suggestions that I think empower teachers. These are things I have experienced myself as a teacher, when I was lucky enough to be in schools with some amazing leaders who made their school environments a positive, engaging culture with great results. I also include some ideas I tried to implement myself as an administrator, and some ideas/suggestions I have seen as I traverse the country working with teachers. Just suggestions of course, but things that can be done NOW with little to no cost - just a willingness to change some structures and think differently. It's these small steps to changing that will head us towards effective technology integration, improved achievement (even in science and math) and most importantly, quality learning experiences that support student success in education.

  • Provide time and opportunity to collaborate
    •  Give teachers of the same subjects planning time or lunch time together so they can plan and co-create lessons, share ideas, learn new skills (technology, pedagogy, etc.)
    • Encourage and provide time after school or during school (i.e. provide a substitute/teacher or another teacher on planning during 1st block say) where specific content teachers can get together and focus on learning a new strategy or skill or technology lesson that they then try to implement at a specific time/date, and then have time to meet again for feedback)
    • Take faculty meeting time to break into content focused collaboration - learn a new skill, a new strategy, a new tool, etc. Each content area focuses on relevant resources/planning for them and which they can then try to implement and share back on at the next faculty meeting.
     (NOTE:  I realize many of you deal with union rules and payment of teachers for 'extra hours'. I am just reporting what has worked. For example, teachers would give up their planning to 'sub' in another teachers class so a group of teachers could meet during a certain block. Or teachers voluntarily stayed after school to learn something new or collaborate.  How were these folks compensated? Time Passes (we use to call them 'pink passes' as they were on pink paper- basically a "get out of jail (oops, school) free card".  If you 'donated an hour', you got an hour pink pass you could use to leave school early (as long as you didn't have classes of course), or come in late on a work day.  A simple, cheap way to honor teachers and their dedication.  It created a culture of caring, sharing and pulling together).
      • Encourage and Promote Leadership
        • Provide opportunities for teachers to co-teach lessons, colleague teach (a teacher who is comfortable with a new technology teaches a lesson in their colleagues classroom - a mentoring/coaching approach), and observe each others classrooms, especially when something new is being tried. This fosters professionalism, collaboration, respect for others expertise, and provides learning opportunities for the teachers.
      (NOTE: Another suggestion for providing opportunities and time for teachers to observe, mentor and co-teach with colleagues - have administrators and guidance counselors be the 'subs' for the classrooms.  This allows administrators to be in touch with the students in a more personal way, experience the struggles that teachers have every day, and really get a sense of what is going on in the classrooms.  Plus - it keeps administrators on their toes as a teacher leader and creates a feeling of 'we are in this together' that instills respect from both teachers and students).

      I could go on, but realize I have written way more than I intended!  This all ties back to my last post Instructional Change and Integration - It Takes a VillageCreate that village atmosphere by being a LEADER.

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