For our professional growth plans, my vice principal and I are sharing a goal this year. As part of the work we are doing divisionally, our goal is to implement supervision strategies to provide consistent and meaningful feedback to our teachers through a common and consistent language.
To achieve this we are basing our work around Marzano’s book: Effective Supervision – Supporting the Art and Science of Teaching. This is a great resource as it provides a nice balance of theory and practice to effectively establish purpose and protocol for visiting classrooms and providing feedback. At the practical end, Marzano provides scaffolding to utilize from a general, snapshot perspective, to a highly specified analytical approach to classroom analysis using a common and consistent language.
As December rolls around and I reflect on the year so far, I’ve picked up on some key learnings and guidance for future growth towards my goal.
Implementing the playbook… it’s a progression.
As I mentioned above, Marzano’s Effective Supervision is a very practical resource. It’s user friendly, hands-on, and scaffolded with observational protocols going from general to highly specific. This is great as it allows a comfortable entry point for both the observer and the teacher being observed.
The dilemma is how fast do you implement the playbook. Being able to analyze practice with a high degree of specificity is great, but if its an awkward process and no one is ready for that level of information, the process will not be effective. My vice principal and I are getting very comfortable with the “snapshot” form and it is making for a good feedback tool with staff, but at some time we need to start getting more specific with our feedback to truly execute the power of the observational protocol. Timing seems to be everything, so we’ll see how things progress over the course of the year.
Using a common language… how do we know we have a common language?
Three months in I am realizing that using a common resource like Effective Supervision not only provides common protocol, but also common language. With this said, the only way to ensure we have a common language is to use the common language commonly… as in together. My vice principal and I have started to visit a couple of classrooms together and then reflect as a team.
Its interesting to go through the classroom visitation process with a peer. New questions come to light. Did we see the same things? Did we see the same things from the same perspective or in the same context? Were we able to articulate similar events using the same language?
The first two questions are interesting as they demonstrate the dynamic and complex nature of the classroom. But its the third question is of utmost importance in terms of classroom supervision for growth. If my vice principal and I aren’t on the same page with our language then the language we use with ourselves and our staff are inconsistent and counterproductive if the goal is to grow and improve.
In Good to Great, Jim Collins talks about getting the right people on the bus before moving forward. In many ways, ensuring a common language of pedagogy is like that crucial first step of getting on the bus.
I’m finding that technology is playing a positive role in providing feedback on classroom observations. Like many administrators these days, we’re carting around our iPads like an extra appendage; a technological extension of our very existence. I have to admit I’m one of those people that like the toy factor of most new technologies such as tablets. I am however, trying to be more purposeful in how I use technology to actually make life a little easier and not just use it for the sake of using it.
With regards to classroom visits, I’ve modified Marzano’s “Snapshot Form” into a pdf template that I find user-friendly for my purposes. With the help of a pdf annotation app (I use PDF Expert), I can quickly make notes on the template as I’m in the classroom, clean them up in my office, and email a copy to the teacher I observed to use as a conversation piece when we debrief.
Like most, this school year seems to be flying by. Here I am in December, wishing that I would have done more in September, October, and November. The good news is that there is still 7 months left in the school year and lots of time to move forward.
The biggest next step for me is to continue to learn by doing. Getting into classrooms is easily one of the best part of the administrators jobs. But like most I could make an effort to be in classrooms more. Increased classroom hours alone isn’t the answer either. The quality of the visits need to be increased as well. I need to continue to be purposeful when visiting classrooms to use the language of instruction and pedagogy outlined in Marzano’s work. Provide consistent communication both with my vice principal and with my teachers.
Secondly, I’m aware that old habits and traditions die hard. I have an amazing staff that truly welcomes outside eyes into their classroom. With that said, there are still some traditional perceptions and connotations that the primary purpose of a classroom visit, especially by someone wielding a clipboard (or iPad), is for the purposes of evaluation.
I’m blessed to be part of a learning community where the above is by far the exception, but change takes time and we need to be respectful of that. The fact that the willingness to openly share practice is becoming the norm is great news for adult and student learning. We’re not there yet, there is still work to be done, but I sure like where we’re going.
That’s about it for my growth plan check in. Comments and feedback are always welcome.
Its been 3 months and 20 posts since I’ve started blogging, and I think I’m hooked. I started my blogging adventure as a vehicle to achieve one of my professional growth plan goals which pertains to purposeful reflection for professional growth. In one of my earlier posts (Why Blog), I outlined 3 purposes to help guide my blogging efforts:
The Leadership 2.0 series is coming to an end and last week we looked at the last dimension of the Principal Quality Practice, Understanding and Responding to the Larger Societal Context. Tom Hierck led us through the webinar, and did an amazing job demonstrating how important context is to our role as leaders.
I’m having trouble getting Storify to export to my wordpress, so here’s a link to my “Reads and Tweets” for November 14th-19th.
George Couros lead us through a great chat this week on the Principal Quality Practice dimension: Managing School Operations and Resources. It was interesting to see the spin of the conversation move towards a chat that I found very affirming. As principals, we constantly wrestle with two of our primary roles as managers and leaders. In many way’s its the school principal’s version of the chicken and egg argument; what hat should I wear first, manager or leader?
Through the webinar and associated twitter chatter, it was interesting that it was difficult to have a conversation purely about management as aspects of leadership kept creeping in. It was a relief to hear many school leaders viewing management through the lens of a leader rather than the other way around. To me it comes down to three things: purpose, purpose, purpose.
Managing with Purpose
Managing through the lens of a leader allows us to manage with purpose. As leaders we establish and define the fundamental purposes of our learning community. We then develop relationships, culture, and professional development that supports that purpose. Management becomes another layer in that process. Management tasks such as building timetables, bell schedules, assigning rooms, structures and processes within the school, and even handing out those limited budget dollars need to be completed in alignment with purpose.
“How does ________ fit our purpose?”
The above seems like such a simple question but we often forget to go there with our managerial decisions. In any given day we are inundated with a tremendous number of “great ideas”. Giving the nod to every great can easily fill our already full plates and put us on a path to overwhelming ourselves. I’m not saying that our default answer when faced with a great idea is “no”, but asking questions that force us to align our ideas with the purpose of the school will ensure the work we are doing will continue to move the learning community in the right direction.
Asking questions to clarify purpose behind management decisions gives leaders a concrete touchstone to help with decision making. I find this especially useful when monetary resources are involved. Decisions that involved financial resources used to be based on a starting point of looking to see if there was money in the budget and going from there. Financially this makes sense, but more often than not, we would see spending sprees happen at the end of a school year to ensure we spend the budget.
As I develop myself as a leader and a manager, I try not to focus on budgets per se. Instead, I ask questions around need and purpose. If a staff member presents a proposal with a compelling need coupled with an alignment to the learning goals of the school(purpose); as a manager, I need to make every effort to provide the financial means to make this proposal a reality. Of course we need to be cognizant of the reality of limited and sometimes scarce resources. However in my experience, making decisions based on needs and purpose allows me the ability to provide for those with need and balance the books.
Management and leadership are essential aspects of a successful learning community. You truly can’t have one without the other. But unlike the problem of the chicken and the egg, I do believe that if we put leadership first and manage through the lens of a leader, management not only starts to make sense, but naturally supports the leadership agenda.
This week Shannon Smith led the Leadership 2.0 webinar, Developing and Facilitating Leadership. As the timing of this lecture coincides closely with the quarter-way point on the school year, I thought I would reflect on what I’ve noticed this year with regards to the topic of developing and facilitating leadership.
Let Leadership Happen
We had a significant turnover with teaching staff this year and I was a bit worried we would have a staff divided, with distinct “old” and “new” camps. Instead, what I saw was an amazing synergy. The new staff brought energy and new perspectives to our school culture, and our existing staff provided wisdom and historical perspective to our new staff members. Who was the leader here? The truth is everyone. By far, the vast majority of my staff were both able to lead and follow through a reciprocal interplay that I have honestly never experienced before.
Did I create this? No, but I definitely wasn’t going to interfere with what was naturally happening. The extent of my direct influence was planning a retreat for the fall knowing that we would need some time to develop relationships with each other. I honestly couldn’t have designed such a great leadership development opportunity. As we prepare for our first round of report cards, its great to see the synergy is still alive as my staff collectively works together through this naturally stressful time.
As I reflect on the year, I’m also definitely seeing the value in giving staff freedom to pursue their personal passions to develop projects and initiative within the school. I’m seeing some phenomenal things happening this year at our school fuelled by the passion of my staff. Its important to realize that this isn’t fostering chaotic anarchy. When a staff member comes to me with an idea, we have a conversation so I can get a better understanding of purpose, and so we can align that purpose with the greater purpose of what we’re trying to accomplish as a school community. Some initiatives thrive, and some naturally fizzle out, but each endeavour enhances the collective leadership capacity of the school. An example of this is exemplified in a previous blog post where a couple of staff members had a dream and they weren’t going to let me get in the way.
Recognize and Develop Leaders
Letting leadership happen is great, but developing leadership capacity within a school is much too important to leave entirely up to chance. It is equally important to purposefully develop leaders within the school. Over the course of the year, many formal and informal leadership opportunities exist within a school. When these arise, its easy as a leader to call on the handful of “go to” people that you know will get the job done.
Continually giving the nod to the same people is great, and in many ways the safest way to distribute leadership, but it does limit the leadership development within the school. This year, I am shifting my mindset away from always giving the nod for leadership opportunities to the usual “go to” people, but giving people that are capable of the task the opportunity for those formal and informal leadership opportunities within the school. Schools are brimming with expertise, by new and old staff alike. To truly develop and foster leadership within a school, we need to remember to give these opportunities to all that are capable, not just the few.