Sunday, February 13, 2011

What do we do next?

Our school just completed our mid year review in the form of a "gallery walk". Each team reflected on their progress with their students both in terms of student achievement but also in use of instructional strategies (a big focus for us is assessment for learning) and then created a display for all of the other teachers to take a look at and give feedback.

We have a professional learning day in a week so this year we decided that we did not want the mid year review to seem like an isolated event but instead wanted to build on this major information sharing on February 21st. At the gallery, we asked for each teacher to do some reflecting and provide some idea of an area or areas we could focus on for our conversations. After reviewing this reflective data over the past few days, it is a hard call. We know in our journey as a school that we need to be more consistent in our language and instructional practice. Should we use the day to build on what we are already working on this year? Should we introduce something new? Should we do a little of both?

I always find analyzing this kind of feedback from every staff member to be a fascinating process. We often share it all right back to the staff so they can see where everyone is coming from. Sometimes though, when receiving all of these ideas and feedback, it is hard to stay focused. I don't want to seem to slow moving as a leader, and ignore the call for faster change, but I also don't want to go to fast, and pretend that everything has changed when it hasn't.

So, what will we do. We probably will try to do some sharing and consistency development around our initiatives for this year, but also try to spend some time honoring where we want to go in the future.

I find myself thinking all of the time about the next step. I find these reflective moments are more challenging yet more fruitful when I ask the entire staff to weigh in on the decision as well.

Why is the Edreform world having trouble finding turnaround principals?

There were two fascinating pieces in the New York Times last week that centered on issues in the principalship. I don't often get my education news from the times but the juxtaposition of these two articles just one day apart was too much to resist.

The first article centered on the national effort to use different turnaround models for the most struggling schools in each state. Quick summary, these schools often leave the same principal in place that they had before or they really struggle finding people to take the positions. Not a real surprise to me because the turnaround principal job has got to be one of the hardest in education and for the people who take on the positions, there is absolutely no guarantee of success.

The second article focused on New York City Public Schools effort to collect unpaid lunch bills by charging school principals with the collection duties or else the money comes out of their individual school budget. Which, as a principal, seemed to me a completely insane policy. If you want principals to be instructional leaders in schools, it seems obvious to not saddle them with even more non-instructional duties.

How are these two things related? The reason we have a turnaround school principal shortage is that we keep putting up roadblocks to principals who are put in these positions. If we want more people to go after these jobs, they have to be given a ton of support, and not lunch bill collection duties to complete. It may seem like an absurd policy, but probably most districts in this country expect principal to be superheroes, to be strong instructional leaders, manage everything in the building, and make sure all policies are followed.

The principalship is a very unglamorous position. I happen to love it, and I embrace that element of the job. But if you are trying to turnaround a school, you better not have to collect lunch money too.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Collaboration Kills says Joe Klein.

I tried really hard to stay digitally away from the Teach for America summit this weekend. Both the TFA is the enemy and TFA is the answer tweets and blog posts make me weary. As a TFA alum, I too have mixed feelings about the organization. So I stayed away, except when working on making some revisions to Chapter 3 of my dissertation, I accidentally just clicked on the video of this morning's panel and hopped around for literally two minutes before I stumbled upon this quote from Joe Klein: "Don't buy into this notion that if all the adults just collaborate, it will be just fine for the kids, the adults have been collaborating for a long time, and the kids are getting screwed." It is about 1 hour and 18 minutes into the panel and after the quote many cheered.

I get it to some extent. I am now just a small city, elementary school principal and have no ideas about big city battles between administration and unions.  So, I am not one that will pretend I know the answers.

But, to go back to the quote, if you mess with collaboration, you really make me angry. The sound bite about collaboration got applause from the TFA audience because it conjured up images of union teachers collaborating only around how little they were going work the next day or something.

What worries me about all of this is the notion of leadership that TFA seems to engender. Just tell people what to do, blast them if they don't follow the mandate, and if they question things they don't have the best interests of the children in mind.

What if there is another way? What if there are school leaders out there, TFA alum like myself included, that fully believe in collaboration. That believe that involving all of the voices in a school in the slow and messy process of improving and building a dynamic learning environment. That believe that test scores measure some things but not every thing. That seek out feedback and input at every step of the process, no matter how difficult and time consuming.
I don't think our kids are getting screwed either.

I know, I know, I am just a principal of a little elementary school. What could I possibly know about leadership and change and human behavior? I think I had spent more time both teaching and leading a school than anyone else on the panel, except maybe one. I guess I know that much more than them.