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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Elevating Elementary Educator Voice, Choice, Leadership

A wide band of administrators, coaches, and other decision makers circle the elementary school teachers leaving them with less voice and choice than is positive for good teaching and learning. I'm not sure why this exists and wonder if this reality is rooted in old-time gender prejudice that provided less power to fields that were predominantly female.

Whatever the root cause, I am now wondering about how can we restructure this reality to elevate elementary school teacher voice, choice, and leadership in ways that matter?

Good structures of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) and Response to Intervention (RTI) exist and can play a more powerful role in this movement.

What's missing, however, is authentic decision making process and power, effective communication, leadership, modern professional development, and sufficient time and strategic process for idea share, creativity, and innovation.

At the middle school and high school levels, teams of teachers and teacher leaders who work directly with children make most decisions related to curriculum and teaching. This model empowers what those educators can do with and for students and their families.

At the elementary level, however, there is an experience of oppression that exists given the lack of choice/voice/leadership, the dearth of good communication, some lack of equity, and at times disrespectful treatment--how can we make positive change?

I have a number of ideas, and I wonder what others have to say or think about this. Ideas that I think will transform our work include the following:
  • Creating a new teacher-centered distributive leadership structure at the elementary school
  • Adopt a co-coaching model where educators coach each other rather than the more hierarchical model of a few coaches who manage and support educators. The co-coaching model minimizes the distance between coaches and students since all co-coaches are both teaching students and helping one another move the program forward. I believe our reading coaching model is a positive model of student-support and co-coaching. 
  • Include educators in all communication in transparent, timely, inclusive ways eliminating the fact that some are in the know and others are not--shared knowledge increases capacity. Specifically I advocate that information related to all curriculum meetings, school council meetings, curriculum director-principal meetings, and administrative meetings are shared in a timely manner. I also think it's a good idea to invite educators to attend those meetings to represent the educator voice--the representation of rotating educators could be done in a fair way that well represents the educators in the system. This kind of representation would minimize cliques, conjecture, hearsay, and miscommunication that occurs at times. 
  • Use good, inclusive, collaborative, strategic process for all curriculum initiatives rather than simply relying on the decision making of administrators or administrator-chosen teams alone. Re-looking at current process and elevating that process with greater strategic process and inclusion of all stakeholders will save time and increase capacity for modern day, effective learning and teaching. 
  • Eliminate hearsay, conjecture and games of "telephone" by communicating clearly and regularly using proactive, modern and streamlined models of good communication. Technology affords us terrific tools for streamlined, inclusive, two-way communication that serves to both inform as well integrate many points of view into information share. 
  • Lessen the numbers of individuals who do not work directly with children--ensure that all or almost all administrators, coaches, and other managers/decision makers have regular teaching/learning time since planning for, teaching, and assessing the learning is the essence of our work and when too many decision makers are distanced from that work, the decisions are not as good as they could be.
  • Use a servant-leadership model where administrators serve educators and other staff, and staff and educators, in turn, serve students and their families. 
  • Modernize professional development by moving away from one-size-fits-all "boxed" professional development to personalized, responsive, blended professional development so that every educator is getting the kind of professional development that meets their needs and interests with regard to teaching well. Provide greater choice when it comes to professional development time, and find simple and effective ways to assess the impact of professional development. It's important to widely share the results of assessments too so that all can be thinking about how to better use professional development dollars and time. 
  • Re-look at, analyze, and revise the evaluation system. Currently, I believe, there is wasted dollars, time, and result connected to our current evaluation system procedures. I believe that this can be greatly streamlined in ways that make it more effective with regard to the time and result in relation to quality student/family teaching/service. 
  • Organize and streamline protocols in ways that make it easy for educators to access, learn, and remember. The use of websites can be advantageous in this regard. 
  • Create time and opportunity for educators to share ideas, debate strategy/effort, exchange materials, and develop their teaching/learning craft, practice, and repertoire. 
  • Inclusive, respectful, transparent share of all metrics related to educators' efforts, result, and ideas. Currently metrics are selectively shared which hinders educators ability to well-analyze the metrics associated with the work they do since they can't rightly compare their metrics with similar grade-levels, schools, or disciplines. 
  • Placing all or almost all administrators in roles that interface with students and families regularly will elevate the work we do. For example rather than having curriculum directors placed away from school activity, directors and principals could co-lead buildings sharing both curriculum, administrative, and student/family service tasks on a regular basis thus eliminating the distance that occurs between decisions and daily teaching/learning efforts. 
  • Provide greater leadership opportunity for educators by listing new jobs and opportunities in accessible, timely ways. Recently a colleague told me that a job was posted after it was filled thus leaving her out of the possibility of applying for the job. Issues like this do not foster good leadership opportunities.
  • Spread the Good News. I have started watching all school committee meetings in order to understand the news and workings of the school system where I work. The meetings are lengthy and it takes a lot of time to watch. I think much of the information shared at those meetings should be shared in a streamlined fashion to all members of the system community. For example, the superintendent would often share curriculum highlights. The projects he shared were amazing and I was so glad I was able to learn of that "good news," good news that impacted my practice. It's essential that systemwide good news and ideas are shared to all regularly as one way to elevate the "collective genius" of an organization. 
In my opinion, too much time and capacity is wasted by utilizing less effective, exclusive processes that do not include all stakeholders in authentic decision making and communication that impacts the work educators do and develop each day.

For example, recently an issue occurred. At the end, we came to realize that the issue took as much as 800 hours of discussion, research, and planning by administrators. Most of this time did not include educator voice or choice, and by the time the issue was relayed to educators, it was very confusing and took another 100-200 hours of educator time. In the end, the resulting decision had minimal impact on education quality or impact. In fact, with hindsight, if the issue had been better orchestrated from the start, it would have taken much less time with results that equalled the time it took.

In another example, I heard an administrator report on teacher voice in an inaccurate way when asked a question. That administrator is distanced from educators' voices yet makes decisions daily for educators. Ideally the administrator would have been able to answer accurately because the administrator would have regular contact with educators or if that was impossible, the administrator could have replied, "Let me ask educators what they think of that?" rather than just conjecturing about educator response. 

Research that relates to successful organizations and effective work point to the need to foster individual and collective autonomy, mastery, and purpose as organizations seek to elevate the collective genius of an organization. Elevating the use of good transparent, inclusive strategic process and teacher voice and choice at the elementary level will move schools in a more positive, productive, and dynamic directions. Also, elevating educator voice, choice, and leadership at the elementary level means that elementary educators serve as modern-day leaders and mentors for the students and families they serve.

What do you think about voice, choice, and leadership related to elementary school educators? How are the voices, choices, and leadership of elementary educators developed in positive ways in your school environment? Why does this matter?

I want to think about this with greater depth in the days ahead, and I welcome your thoughts, ideas, and debate. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What is Happiness and Why Does this Matter?

I don't like the name calling that's happening in American politics. Name calling is like slamming the door in the face of others--it stops conversations and minimizes important issues. Instead, I believe in civil discourse and debate. I also acknowledge our primitive instincts to quickly demean and disrespect those that disagree with us or do us wrong, but caution myself and others to move above and beyond our primitive selves towards civility, respect, collaboration, development, and betterment.

This led me to think of commonality of purpose and action, and brought me back to the great words that lay the foundation for our United States democracy, words that formulate our vision to provide all with "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

The focus on happiness caught my attention and prompted me to imagine a world based on an economy of happiness. I tweeted out a number of questions related to the attributes of happiness, happiness metrics, and happy communities. People retweeted and then tweeted related links. I decided to collect the links here as I continue to focus on this vital element of living--an element that leads to peaceful communities, quality living, and care for one another.

I'm sure I'll add more in the days to come, and I invite you to share related links, tweets, and research with me.


Walk the Walk: No Name Calling

One who I often disagree with shared demeaning words. I was tempted to name call due to my frustration and disappointment with the situation. Yet, as I watch political leaders use name calling, disrespectful soundbites, and disparaging remarks to quickly knock those that disagree with them down, I recognized the harm in that. When we name call, we avoid the needed analyses, civil discourse and debate to find the promise in the problem. As Getting to Yes reminds us "Go hard on the problem, not the people."

Instead I wrote a note to the person who made the remark. I noted how the remark made me feel and suggested a possible alternative. I looked closely at the individual recognizing so many strengths that I value and some traits that challenge me. I noted my own part in the episode--the energy I brought to the meaning, recent events, and vision.

Essentially we share so many goals, and we both regard well attributes of each others' work, yet there are areas of disconnect, areas that I can work to change in positive and proactive ways.

So, it's best to move away from name calling, disrespectful soundbites, and quick judgement, and instead seek common ground and ways to work together. That results in development rather than disparagement. So as I write, I'll commit to walk the walk with regard to no name calling, and instead seek to work with those that challenge me. Great leaders of the past have demonstrated that this is the way to move forward, a way that I respect and will strive for.