My husband was a great dancer. I had trouble following him. It took awhile. I was a leader for so long and teaching leaders, I forgot how to follow. It takes two to Tango. We need each other for the greater good, serving children. By leading and following each other, a school filled-with leaders, shared leadership, at its finest, we nurture joy, wonder and determine new world educational destiny.
Organizational insights from researchers with empirical support including Senge, Deming, Garmston and many others point to the critical role of shared decision-making in a high achieving school.
What is a great school, anyway? Yours! Brand and shout it out. Stick with that brand.
At the Beginning.
When we first held you, we knew you were special. From the start, you saw the world through a unique lens most people don't share. How fortunate you experience things so clearly and deeply. You want to understand how things work and how you can make them even better. Few people have that talent. The world's greatest inventors, writers, artists and leaders have all seen things in a multitude of ways. There are so many ways to be smart and you are smart in every way.
Teachers Teach All kids.
I once taught in a classroom where a kid rolled on the floor all day long, pretty much. I asked the teacher how she taught him. Response was "No problem". Teachers figure out ways how to be moms and dads during the day, keep those mandated balls rolling in some order and let their creative juices flow, designing student-centered curriculum and making school fun.
Teacher Appreciation Week.
I honor you, remarkable, unforgettable teachers and principals who set the stage for success. I honor your passion and good hearts. Thanks for withstanding anything and everything, sacrificing, and making this place called school, a home. Thanks for believing kids are not cookie cutter when we know how to reach and teach them.
By sharing words, deeds, stories, humor and experience you enrich countless lives, forever. You model intellectual curiosity, dignity, warmth and compassion. You nourish students' bodies and brains, such a higher calling than people in the outisde world could imagine.
Promising Teacher Leadership.
Teachers are great leaders. Leadership is really about learning together, creating a sense of purposeful community and encouraging bonds of trust for growth. Teachers practice reflection about themselves, their practices and are a support system for each other.
- Professional Development. Teachers along with Principals and Coaches self-determine their own PD. A combination of edcamps, school-wide Twitter chats, visiting other teachers and schools- what a great start. On-going collegial conversation, as a norm.
- Evaluation. No outside Evaluators, please. Teachers could be self-evaluating as a logical extension of reflective practices. Action research with other teachers, co-teaching, team teaching, teaching with the Principal is highly effective for continual renewal. Evaluation should never be tied to test scores. The purpose of evaluation is not to prove, but to improve.
- Mentors. Everyone needs a mentor. Paired mentors revitalize and inspire each other, support and validate. I'd pair a veteran teacher with a newbie. Watch what happens!
- Meetings. Always a hot topic. Many teachers confess to leading with their feet when they don't feel staff develpment, meetings or 'training' is meaningful or purposeful. Why not turn it around? I suggest you rotate staff meetings through teacher sign-up. Each teacher showcases his/her room and may offer a mini-lesson or strategy. A gallery walk of the room allows for group reflection on skills taught, how what's going on fits with what they are doing. It's purposeful cohesion instead of division. The Principal is leading by guiding, just as teachers do in their rooms when the doors close. This is transformational leadership.
- Teachers need to feel free to take risks. A school culture of safety and trust as a viable, breathing dance of love pomotes more maker spaces, legos, projects and developmentally appropriate practices.
- Homework. Grading. Looping. Tossing textbooks. Assessment. Tech. Recess. Use of time as a sparse commodity. Teachers lead these collegial conversations as a school norm. Every day, not just on staff development day. What works for you?
- Building capacity. By thinking in and out of the box, comprehensively setting and matching goals and benchmarks, a great school is even greater.
Vision and Misssion. Trust.
Principals have a Vision of what could be. It's a little more interesting now, with the business world term "working lean" in action. How do we as a staff divide existing resources while meeting and exceeding that Vision? Principals practice MBWA (Management By Walking Around) to routinely handle mundane but necessary tasks. All this before moving the school forward. Challenging. Help needed.
Principals are the "teachers' teacher and ultimate decider on the really tough issues. Most important, school leaders inspire and motivate to maximize productivity, ensure all children are meeting potential and create a culture, climate and morale of excellence, tenacity and can-do-attitude.
Safe and orderly environment, questioning prevailing practices such as playground, lining up, raising hands, class organization and management. This is the daily realm of the teacher. What are our priorities as a school and how do we get there?
By 'visioneering', all stakeholders including staff, parents, community and students have a vested interest, feeling their voices are heard. I'm leery of teachers buying into anything unless there is a need or interest, a strong coach and time to reflect on new practice. They have to see a need or have interest in something new. So much constant change.
Create a culture of learning.
Constructivism. Inquiry. More questions. What is the purpose of our school? How does homework fit in? Are we breaching the digtial divide? How do we level the playing field for children of poverty or other circumstance? How do we differentiate for children with many varying needs? What's the best and quickest way to fill in learning gaps?
If the purpose of our school is to create a breathing, growth-oriented culture of learning for all, each of us needs to set learning goals for ourselves and model our thinking. Metacognition. The same as we do with kids. Our goals must be reachable, measurable and make a difference. Models, all. Lifelong learners. We teach each other, leading and following, dancing in sync. Practice makes permanent.
Principals and teachers are change agents, serving others. For some, change represents fear, distrust and more work. For others, the viable nucleus, change represents opportunity to re-think, adjust and grow. I don't believe in failure, only feedback. How do we reduce fear of change of status quo, get through the initial flux with few bruises, deal with dissent and hear every voice? The dance of change hopefully doesn't step on too many toes, until the idea becomes the new norm and easy.
Start with Maslow, add in Dewey and Gardener. Add Ccikszentmihalyi. Learning states include lowest, "on task", next "engaged", then "flow", the highest state where we are so cohesive as a class and school aha! moments are the norm. Senses are heightened, we lose track of time and remember why we wanted to be teachers in the first place. Teaching is a joy forever. Look at the happy kids.
For maximum achievment, move beyond engagement to flow, in classrooms and the whole school community, in every way you can dream and imagine.
Reflections on the journey.
We go back to our own KWL. Where are we now? How's that roadmap to excellence looking, sounding and feeling now?
It's ok to start over. There's no failure, only feedback. Mid-course corrections are always expected in the cycle of school transformation.
Bamboo grows very slowly underground, branching out, then finally when you least expect it, voila! Blooms all over the place. Schools and kids are like that.
Wishing you an affirming Teacher Appreciation Week this and every week. Thank you, America's best Teachers and Principals, all.
Leaving footprints on your reading hearts, Rita