Friday, August 15, 2014

Lead a 21st Century School: 3 Steps to Take Right Now

Here is my contribution to Leadership Day 2014....

A lot of talk about 21st century schools is focused on devices and apps. You could be buried in all the iPads and Chromebooks you could ever imagine but the culture at your school will not change until the philosophy of 21st century teaching, learning, AND leading is embraced.

Here are 3 steps that you can take right now:

1. Model the Change You Want to See

If you want to reduce the use of paper or go paperless this year, then don’t have handouts and copies of the PowerPoint that you are going to use at your meetings. Send it out in email or better yet, flip it by asking teachers to review it and be ready to discuss prior to coming to the meeting.

If you want your teachers to be reflective practitioners then start your own blog and share it with them. The best schools have sharing and collaborating built into everything they do and opening yourself up will go a long way towards establishing the trust that must be in place first.

And by all means, if you want to see innovative teaching practices and risk taking in your school then don’t welcome your teachers back with data chats and performance goals. Yes, we all know that it is important but we want to be excited about the possibilities of a new year not rehashing past shortcomings. If we were into disaggregating data we would be making a lot more money doing that somewhere. Give teachers some time to connect with each other and the reasons they got into this line of work in the first place.

This year at my site we opened up our welcome back week with a Top Chef style pizza cook off in the school kitchen and wrapped it up with a team challenge to create the best cheesy, shamelessly self-promoting ad for our departments (see below). We talked some data and SMOs (specific measurable objectives) in between, but it was the team building activities that stuck with me.

What did you do in back-to-school PD this year?

2. Remove the Safety Nets

I was part of an infuriating conversation last year in which a group of colleagues was saying that they could not make the transition to Common Core because they did not have the appropriately aligned textbooks to teach from. My perspective was that the transition offered the perfect opportunity to ditch textbooks altogether and focus on more engaging and effective strategies. In the end administration wound up siding with the textbook proponents and the perfect opening to remove a safety net was missed. A textbook centered curriculum was ensured through at least the next adoption cycle.

People don’t like change. Many will complain. Ultimately, removing safety nets but empowering them to explore alternative solutions will push them forward. That’s leadership.

3. Focus On the Needs of Your Best

The best teachers have a deeply ingrained drive to become experts at what they do. Unfortunately for them, many school initiatives got bogged down in numbing conversations about holding the few bad teachers accountable. This gives the bad apples way too much power and drives the good ones mad.

The mindset has to change from one of accountability to one of growth. Create a professional development framework that will allow teachers to identify areas that they want to focus on. Then instead of requiring everybody to sit through the same sit-and-get traditional style PD, give them that time in PLCs to research and develop strategies in their focus areas. Finally, give them a venue to share their learning with their colleagues. You will grow a staff of professionally fulfilled  experts.

In an era where tenure is probably on the way out, schools and districts are losing one of the main things that motivates frustrated teachers to stick it out through the hard times. Good teachers are also increasingly using social media to develop large networks of other likeminded individuals. Without the barbed wire of tenure restricting the flock to your pasture and the promise of greener grass on the horizon, the intrepid ones you want to keep are probably going to wander off. If the needs of the best are ignored chances are pretty good that schools are going to wind up losing them to those leaders who are embracing the philosophy of 21st century teaching and learning.

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