Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Bit O' Change Leadership to Start Your Year


I just started reading Change Leadership A Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools by Tony Wagner and Robert Kegan.  (Yeah, yeah I'm about six years behind the times - if you're even further behind then me there's an Amazon link at the end of the post.) I heard Wagner speak at an event in late July and was intrigued enough to pick up a copy.

Luckily for me, the guy who had this office before me left a copy on the shelf - can you say, "freebie!"

In chapter 2 Wagner outlines what he calls The 7 Disciplines for Strengthening Instruction.  While there is value in all 7 of the disciplines I found myself reflecting on two as I assist principals in gearing up for the start of the school year. For context, here are the 7 Disciplines:

  1. Urgency for instructional improvement using real data
  2. Shared vision of good teaching
  3. Meetings about the work
  4. A shared vision of student results
  5. Effective Supervision
  6. Professional development
  7. Diagnostic data with accountable collaboration

I'm sure I'll write more about this (and other) works by Wagner in the future, but for start of the year here are the two that struck me as apropos.

Meetings About the Work

In my district teachers return to work a week ahead of the students. On paper this means that teachers have 5 full days to plan and prepare instruction. In practice these five days are largely encumbered by mandatory meetings and orientations.  Teachers are lucky to get 2 days of planning time. I have been guilty of planning days where teachers rotate between administrators as we each droned on for hour-long sessions about our respective areas of expertise.

What a waste!

Here's what Wagner has to say about meetings, "Ideally, under this discipline, all adult meetings are about instruction and model good teaching.  Yet in most school and district meetings, the craft of teaching is rarely a subject of discussion. Regardless of their frequency, meetings most often address announcements and operations - the administration of the work - rather than the work itself -instruction."

Make your back to school week about learning and instruction. If you have information and announcements to get out, and I know you do, write a blog, memo, video, or tweet - have your time with teachers be about the work.

Effective Supervision

How many times have you let the business of your school day keep you out of the classroom?  It happened to me and I'll lay 5 to 1 that it's happened to you. To be about the 'work' you need to be in classrooms. You need to be focused on improving instruction.

Resolve that this year will be different.

Many states, mine included, have revamped their teacher evaluation systems which makes this a perfect time to change your behavior. Work the new system. Visit classrooms early and often. According to Wagner, "...[effective] supervision is frequent, rigorous, and entirely focused on the improvement of instruction. Skip the "annual, perfunctory visit" and instead focus on "the level of rigor in the classroom or whether the students are learning what the teacher is trying to teach."  After each visit provide teachers with accurate, constructive feedback of their performance. Look for ways to help your struggling teachers and  to stretch your best teachers.


If you haven't read Wagner's book yet I highly recommend that you pick up a copy for you and each member of your leadership team. Click the link below to purchase from Amazon.

Photo Credit - (CC) Kayla Johnson

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