Leadership: the action of leading a group of people or an organization. But what does this REALLY look like? I believe that it looks something like what one high school principal is doing.
This story starts out with a high principal contacting me late last spring because he wanted assistance with helping his teachers design lessons and assessments that asked students to think at higher levels. As he talked with his students and walked through classrooms, the students weren’t engaged in the kind of thinking and learning that he wanted for them.
After our initial exchange of emails, the principal liked the idea of a professional development session that involved teachers asking students to design performance-based tasks and assessments so an afternoon in-service was set up and delivered. A few days after the in-service, the principal asked his teachers if they would like to continue to pursue this professional development. He asked them if they found it to be relevant for their work to improve teaching and learning. According to the principal, the teaching staff told him that they wanted to continue because they thought it was beneficial.
The principal contacted me again about a month after the initial in-service and asked if I could continue to support his teachers with this work, and I told him that I could. We decided to set up a time to discuss a plan for his teachers during the summer so in the fall the professional development process would be put in place to support his teachers.
We met in July and we talked about his expectations for teachers, conflicts with other district or building initiatives, time for teachers to design or redesign their work, and opportunities to collaborate with others during in-services and other collaborative times throughout the school day. Other topics that we discussed were ways to share and celebrate the work that his students and teachers do with others and pulling in previous professional development efforts such as their instructional practices inventory (IPI) and technology trainings as his school has a 1:1 computing initiative. While we were discussing, the principal created a Google Doc to capture the thoughts and actions that each of us would be responsible for. Some of the items listed were:
- teacher expectations (implementing at least one performance task or assessment per quarter);
- a Google Doc template for recording teachers’ work from their PD for accountability, coaching, and support purposes;
- an IPI schedule to coincide with the PD schedule in order for teachers to analyze & discuss data and provide time to share ideas and set new goals; and
- a beginning of a social media plan to increase the sharing and celebrating of his teachers work with this PD and other awesome stuff that his students and teachers are doing.
When it came time to kick-off the school year with the first in-service, the principal shared a few things with his staff to help them understand why they are doing what he is working on putting into place. He showed his teachers the IPI data from previous years and talked to them about wanting to see more significant gains and setting more specific goals. He told them that we want more for our students and that with this professional development plan – including work time, collaboration, coaching, and sharing/celebrating – this could happen. The principal talked about an Innovation Showcase that occurs in May and encouraged his staff to think about having their students and/or themselves share with other schools what they have been trying out. Finally, the principal talked about how most of the sports and activities have their own Twitter handle but there isn’t a Twitter handle or hashtag for academics to showcase students and teachers. He asked the staff what they thought about the idea, and many were excited about it and started to brainstorm Twitter hashtags that their high school could start using consistently.
Since I was at their school to facilitate their professional development, the staff moved into the continuation of their learning that began last spring. Throughout the morning, teachers began to talk about additional ways to share and celebrate the great things that would be happening at the high school. A few other teachers were a bit concerned about the amount of time that this might take or if they had the skills to use these social media channels. One teacher mentioned that she has her students take pictures and tweet them out. I suggested starting a student social media team and have their students be the reporters and camera crew. The principal liked the idea so the principal asked the teachers and, “boom,” a teacher stepped up and told the staff that she could work on coordinating a team of students.
At the conclusion of the in-service, a shared decision about their school’s Twitter hashtag was made and the principal told his teachers that he was going to start blogging a few times a month and eventually have his teachers blog too. After the teachers completed a Google Form PD feedback survey, the principal and I spent a few minutes debriefing the morning. We also talked about additional times for teachers to work, collaborate, and reflect during weekly collaboration times and monthly in-services as well as using teacher quality funds to support this work. I asked him what he thought about all of this, and he told me that he liked how these things were coming together; however, the challenge will be to make sure that everything that is in place continues to be monitored.
For a third-year principal, I think this high school principal is an up-and-coming administrator who could be a model for what true leadership looks like. So far his walk matches his talk, and I’m excited to see how he does.