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Sunday, 1 November 2015

Who Is In Your Class? New Role - New Learning



I have a new role this year. I am a Vice Principal in a K-8 Elementary school. Some might see this as a "logical next step" or the "natural progression" of a career in Education. But in all honestly, Administration was NEVER on my radar. Those who know me know that I am passionate about children and I am passionate about learning. I have never been interested in management and I have always thought of administrators as managers.

Working in Curriculum, however, I had opportunities to go into many different schools, and it became quickly apparent that the schools that had a culture of learning, the schools that moved, were the schools where the administrators saw themselves as "Instructional Leaders". These administrators knew how to empower their staff and students to make learning happen.

How did they do it? Could I do it?

I strongly believe that the way we "do school" needs to change. I've been trying to find the best place I can be to support that change on a larger scale, because a great classroom here and there is not enough. Every child should have the opportunity to learn, to be motivated and interested, to be curious and to feel successful.

I had the pleasure of seeing Steven Katz speak last fall. He gave me lots to think about. According to Katz, the connection between changes in teacher thinking and practice and student achievement is very strong. But the connection between professional learning and changes in teacher thinking and practice is much more fuzzy.

What does this mean to me?

- Sending a teacher to a professional development in-service does not ensure changes in thinking or practice.
- Change in teacher practice is not enough - compliance does not beget improvement in student achievement. There needs to be a change in teacher thinking for the change in practice to actually have a positive impact.

So basically, whoever is doing the thinking is doing the learning. If the "System" is telling teachers what to do and how to do it, teachers aren't doing the thinking, the System is, so teachers are not learning. They may be compliant, and so it might look like their practice has changed, but unless they believe in that practice, it will not be enacted with a fidelity that leads to improvement for students. Nor will the change be sustainable.

What we need to do is provide the time, space, resources, and permission for teachers to do the heavy thinking. And we need to join them in it. Administrators need to learn with their teachers.

So, this year, my learning is all about how to do this best. Steven Katz asked us "Who is in your class?" And suddenly I realized I could be an administrator. It is not about being a manager (although those pieces need to happen as well... perhaps more on that in the next post). It is about building relationships and empowering people. It is about creating a culture of learning where it is safe to take risks and where we believe in one another's ability to do what is right and necessary.

If I believe that students should own their own learning, then I must also believe that teachers must own theirs. Steven Katz said that to be a good administrator is to "influence people to change". I think it is even more than that. To be a good administrator is to inspire and empower people to grow and to create the conditions necessary for that growth to happen.

That is what I am hoping to learn over the next few years. How do I create the conditions necessary for learning and growth? I'm blessed to be with a principal who has created a culture of learning in her school. I plan to pick her brain, question her every move, and take some risks of my own.

I will let you know how it goes.

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