This post first appeared in the PASA Flyer – September 2017.
This post is the first in a series connected to the podcast Shift Your Paradigm: from school-centered to learner-centered. My colleague, Randy Ziegenfuss, and I will be sharing our learning and thinking along the way and cross-posting to the Shift Your Paradigm site.
In the first two episodes of Shift Your Paradigm, our guests (Kelly Young, Allan Cohen and Anya Smith) helped lay the foundation for future conversations by helping answer the questions: What is learner-centered? and What is learner-centered leadership?
One of my takeaways from the conversation was the importance of language and the words we use to describe our practice. In Episode 2, Allen helped clarify the idea of “transformation.” Allan piqued my curiosity and challenged my own thinking when he described transformation as a kind of change where the form of something is altered. Transformation occurs when we let go of the past and create something entirely new. It’s about breaking from what has been done, not just improving it. (Go ahead, read those last two sentences a few times and think deeply about how they resonate with your current thinking about change in education.)
You may be thinking about some of these questions: How are we transforming education? How is the paradigm shift from school-centered to learner-centered leveraged to bring about transformation in education? What is the evidence of a transformation? What are the learners (young and old) saying about the learning? The “how” of the paradigm shift and the transformation of education is what we will be focusing on starting in Episode 3.
Once we’ve shifted our mindset, there is the actual work of transformation. And it is challenging! Leadership up and down the organization is critical, and we explored this topic in Episode 2 with Anya and Allan. Formal leaders working to transform learning first have to manage the dominance of the existing school-centered paradigm. Leaders can begin to cause something new to happen by introducing the new learner-centered lens into the culture of the school or district. Initially, they may sound crazy to those speaking the language of the dominant school-centered paradigm, and may not initially be heard because it’s disruptive to the dominant paradigm. Allan offered some valuable advice: listen more than you speak. Find the best opportunities to share the new paradigm. Then ask the question, “What are your concerns? What are you curious about?” The shift – and subsequent transformation – requires time, careful conversation and listening, not speeches.
In Episode 1 Kelly offers this advice to leaders embarking on the transformation journey and the paradigm shift : (1) be a learner; (2) approach it as a mindset shift; (3) listen and find your own answers relevant to your own community; do not try to replicate what others are doing. “There is no one way to be!” What will you need to rethink in your context? What will you need to let go of? And in Episode 2, Anya reminds us that our greatest untapped resource in this work is our learners. How do we see everyone in the organization as a learner and a leader?
Ready for the work of transformation – breaking from what has been done and creating something entirely new? If you haven’t listened to Episode 1 and Episode 2, head on over to ShiftYourPardigm.org or iTunes and join us on the journey! Come back soon for Episodes 3 and 4 where we begin uncovering the “how” of transformation in specific contexts, speaking to leaders and a learner from Alamo Heights Independent School District in Alamo Heights, TX.
What is your vision for learning? What does it let go of from the past? What does it create that is entirely new?
At #NCE17 this week, I was able to attend a session Improving Leadership Performance – 5 Tips to Maximize Your Leaders’ Potential faciliated by Mark Reardon, a former administrator and Lead Education Consultant for Quantum Learning.
Mark spent time through the session helping us understand a formula for efficacy which includes consistency, confidence, competence, and effort. As leaders, we have the greatest impact on our supervisees’ competence. We hire individuals with the knowledge, dispositions, and skills which best meet our organization’s culture. We provide professional learning opportunities. We engage in conversations about our practice. Most importantly, we provide feedback. There is much research about feedback being “timely, specific, and actionable.” But, Mark shared a specific tool to help us as leaders give meaningful feedback to our colleagues.
My biggest takeaway from the session was the ACT framework for feedback. When providing feedback, Mark encouraged us to identify the action, include the characteristics, and highlight our target (or goal).
Action – I noticed you… or You___…
Characteristics – You displayed empathy when… or You thought carefully when…
Target – This helps us further our goal of… or This will help us to …
So, for example, let’s say a principal evaluates a teacher. In the post-conference evaluation form, the principal articulated clear commendations and recommendations based on the narrative of the observation.
As a leader, I could provide specific feedback along the lines of …
“John, I noticed on your evaluation of Ms. Smith, you provided clear recommendations for improving student engagement. You thought critically about her instructional practice and personal philosphy and made targeted recommendations which she can use to grow professionally. Improving instruction and student engagement helps us meet our goal of increasing student achievement.” Imagine the power this has over “Good job on that evaluation!”
What other strategies do you have for providing specific feedback in order to improve competence of our leaders?
At #NCE17 this week, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion (Using Social Media to Tell Your Story) for Superintendents and school leaders across the country. Here are a few of the ideas I shared.
Start with the why. Take the time to establish your goals with social media use. Why do you want to use it? Who will be using it? What benefits will using social media afford your organization?
Identify and mitigate the barriers. What are your operational challenges? What are your mindset challenges? Each context will have different challenges; here are a few we navigated.
Create your accounts on the platforms which best serve your constituents. Who is your audience? What tools does your audience already access? Who will have administrative rights to post on your organization’s behalf? In Salisbury, we use multiple venues, and multiple people have access. Our Director of Athletics and Activities is our most active poster! Most of our social media use is through Facebook and Twitter. If families don’t have accounts, they can view our streams on our website – salisburysd.org.
Ensure you have the appropriate policies. Consult with your experts and board to create (and/or update) board policies and guidelines (Acceptable Use, Social Media for Students, Social Media for Employees, etc.) View our policy here.
Build capacity for sharing. If you are using Twitter, offer workshops for parents, teachers, and leaders so they can learn to use the tool. Talk about your why and uncover mindsets about social media use. When we had a snow delay a couple of years ago, Randy Ziegenfuss and I conducted an impromptu Twitter workshop for our leaders who reported on time. Recently, Ross Cooper helped our admin team set up IFTTT accounts so our leaders could share to multiple venues at one time. Leaders offered a parent workshop on Twitter during a building open house. How can you create opportunities for formal and informal learning for your stakeholders?
Model the Way
As a district leader, I know I need to model the way as a lead learner. As leaders, we need to help others understand what these ideas look like in practice and why the work is valuable. My goal is to tweet a photo from one of our schools every day. I also check the district hashtag every day and retweet some of the postings. I co-host a podcast (TLTalkRadio,org) with my superintendent, Randy Ziegenfuss. As a district, we use a blog (www.salisburysd.us) to promote ideas and current events. How can you model the way in your organization?
Publicize your tools. We need to ensure our stakeholders know how to access the tools which were selected. Create a social media card and share it in school offices. Visit open houses, PTO meetings, etc. to promote the use of social media.
Each panel member shared her ideas, and then there were several questions asked of the panel. One of those questions was, “What were your lessons learned?” As I thought about this question, I reflected on one key lesson we learned. When we first started using Twitter, we used two hashtags (#stsdfalcons and #stsdlearns). Soon, we have teachers and leaders asking why we had a different hashtag for academics and activities. As a result, we rebranded ourselves with one hashtag – #YourSalisbury!
What lessons have you learned along your journey of telling your district’s story?
This week, teachers and leaders from Salisbury Township School District attended PETE&C, Pennsylvania’s Education and Technology Conference, in Hershey, PA. Professional conferences can be valuable learning experiences, and they often require a significant investment of human and/or financial resources? How can you make this human and financial investment meaningful for your district?
- Before the conference – Prepare!
- Build the team who will attend. Hopefully, your team will include some veteran attendees as well as first-timers. Additionally, if possible bring a team which is comprised of teachers, building and district leaders, and even relevant support staff. In the past, we have brought members of our tech support staff to this conference. Conferences can be a great venue for learning together!
- Plan and provide all “operational” details.What are the details teachers/leaders need to know? Are there hotel reservations or reimbursement details they need? What information can you provide ahead of time in order to avoid confusion later? For example, I provide a list of district-led presentations, information about limits/reimbursements for meals, etc.
- During the conference – Engage!
- Embed opportunities to develop your relationships and connect with each other.
So what does this look like? Maybe there is a central meeting place in a lobby where teachers can meet and share informally. Perhaps it is possible to schedule a lunch where everyone can meet and debrief their learning.
- Support your teachers/leaders who are presenting. Take the time to participate in presentations which your teachers/leaders are facilitating. Share their work through a quick tweet with the conference hashtag. Celebrate your presenters! Provide positive feedback and offer to have a reflective conversation about their presentation. (I like to send a handwritten follow up note to our presenters. Hand-written notes can go a long way!)
- Attend Keynotes together. This is easier said than done… Sometimes seating can be an issue. Plan ahead and meet in the same spot each day or ask the early-birds to save a row for your team.
- Embed opportunities to develop your relationships and connect with each other.
- After the conference – Empower!
- Provide opportunities to share your learning and build capacity.
How can others in your district benefit from this team’s attendance? Can you provide opportunities to share during faculty meetings, morning meetings, Summer Academy sessions department meetings, etc.? As a leader, how do you model the way?
- Allocate resources to support attendees’ learning. Hopefully, attendees will return from the conference motivated and eager to implement what they learned. How can you allocate some financial and human resources to encourage this risk-taking? Sometimes a small investment can result in additional intrinsic and/or extrinsic motivation.
- Provide opportunities to share your learning and build capacity.
What other strategies do you have to make the most of professional conferences?
In a previous post, I shared our vision and some background on the Leading #YourSalisbury professional development cohort. Although I am leading the cohort, two of my colleagues (Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D. and Ross Cooper) are also supporting the work. The collaborative effort makes for a higher quality professional learning experience!
During our second Leading #YourSalisbury whole team session, we focused on developing a shared understanding of our Learning Beliefs. Prior to getting started, we reviewed our work from our previous session together. We celebrated our successes and challenges with developing a shared understanding of our Profile of a Graduate and 4Cs. Each school shared its work so we could all benefit from our colleagues’ learning! The sharing process also served as an informal formative assessment for our planning team.
We asked teams to work together and develop a Frayer Model for one of the beliefs (open-walled, personalized, learner agency, and socially embedded). The graphic organizer asks the learner to create a definition, characteristics, examples, and non-examples. By creating these graphic organizers we were able to assess where the group’s thinking is at this time. (We actually created these by building teams. If I were to do this again, I would use mixed grade level groups for these conversations. I think the responses would include more diverse perspectives.)
We will meet with individual building teams to clarify their learning and help them determine how they will share this content with their faculty and staff. I am hoping this shared leadership will lead to shared ownership.
Here is what our teams developed! I am looking forward to seeing how these ideas evolve over the next couple of years.
In January, my colleague (Randy Ziegenfuss, Ed.D.) and I presented at PA’s Association of School Administrator’s New Superintendent Academy. The focus of our presentation was district communication systems. What are communication systems, and why are they important?
We began our conversation by surfacing four key questions. We asked participants to think about these questions through their individual contexts. Resources, culture, attitudes, perspectives, perceptions, etc. could all affect how one leader responds to these questions.
- Who are our/your stakeholders?
- How do we/you communicate with different groups of stakeholders?
- How can systems promote consistent, efficient and effective communication?
- How do effective communication systems improve school culture?
We then shared ideas for communicating with some of our key stakeholders:
Students – How can you engage with students? Think Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! Our students even have in-district gmail accounts. Social media and virtual communication can be efficient, but it is also important to have face-to-face communication with students. I volunteer as a Mystery Reader, participate in a quarterly Superintendent Advisory Council, and even visit the school cafeterias. The past two years our administrative team completed Shadow a Student!
Faculty/Staff – It is easy to become distanced from the faculty and staff, and I make time to engage formally and informally. I try to walk through each of our buildings once per week. I share blog posts about successes teachers are experiencing. Click here to view a recent blog post which celebrates School Counseling Week. I will often jot a quick hand-written note to faculty members thanking them for their work. For example, today a special education teacher told me she spent her snow day reviewing some IEPs. I sent her a tablet with a handwritten note as the top sheet. Randy and I conduct quarterly faculty meetings. We share updates and invite teachers to ask questions – all to keep the lines of communication open!
Administrators – I really value the relationships I have with our administrators. I work hard to communicate effectively and be responsive. We have implemented a couple of structures – monthly administration team meetings and monthly one-on-one check-in meetings. Additionally, I try to stop by the buildings and spend some time informally hanging out in the office. This gives us time to catch up, explore any current challenges, and develop our relationship. We did try to use Voxer with our team, but it did not fit our needs, and the team did not value using another tool.
Board Members – Communicating with the board is essential to developing trust. Our board works diligently to allocate resources for our students. They ask thoughtful questions, share perspectives, and make difficult choices in the best interest of the organization. We spend time with committee chairs prior to each meeting so there are no surprises on the agenda. In addition to a written bi-weekly report, we collaboratively share an update each month during the Superintendent’s report at the Board meeting. We also invite our board to our state School Board conference and spend time learning together.
Parents – I have spent a lot of time getting to know our parents over the last couple of years. I visit the parent drop-off/ pick-up lines at the elementary schools, attend PTA/PTO meetings, speak briefly at all Open Houses, and participate in Coffee and Conversation with Randy and parents. It is my hope that all parents know who I am and are willing to contact me if they have a question, concern, or compliment!
Associations/Unions – We have two unions in our district (teachers/professional and support staff). We have strong relationships with both of our unions. Meeting with the leadership informally every month keeps the lines of communication open! When there is a concern or issue, either side shares the challenge and we discuss solutions together.
Effective communication is one strategy to develop strong relationships with stakeholders. Click here to view our collaborative presentation on developing communication systems. Who are your stakeholders, and how can you develop systems to communicate with them?
Do you want to give your board members a glimpse into your classrooms? Maybe you schedule tours or board visits each year. Here are five more ways students can engage regularly with your board members!
- Start with the Pledge of Allegiance. Do you say the Pledge of Allegiance at your monthly meeting? If so, why not invite two elementary students to help you? Students have the opportunity to speak in front of a larger group/authentic audience, and your Board gets to see the students in action!
- Conduct special recognition ceremonies. Each month, find some students to recognize at your regular board meeting. Add a standing agenda item – Special Recognitions/Presentations. Invite local legislators sometimes too! For example, we have recognized PA State Tennis Champions, Widener Leadership Scholarship Award Winners, etc. If you have press at your meetings, they may cover the story and extend the celebration to the community.
- Provide student activity reports! Invite students to share what is happening in their buildings. This only takes a few minutes and Board members get to hear the enthusiasm and excitement the students have for their learning. Monthly, we invite elementary, middle, and high school students to share information about recent events, upcoming events, and fundraisers. The Board really enjoys hearing first-hand from our learners.
- Involve them in Board Appreciation month! Our students participate in Board Appreciation Month in January. They create cards and art work, bring treats, and warm our board members’ hearts with kind words and creative illustrations.
- Highlight each school once per year! Each of our schools hosts a Curriculum and Technology sub-committee meeting once per year. This provides board members the opportunity to visit the schools. One of the first few agenda items is a spotlight on the school. (This typically takes 15-20 minutes.) For example, last year our High School counselor highlighted our Dual Enrollment program. Our middle school students shared a recently created MakerSpace and Student Lounge. Each school highlights something different, and typically these presentations are all student-led. Parents are also encouraged to attend and participate.
Providing these opportunities not only engages the Board, but it also engages more parents at our meetings. Students have the opportunity to plan and deliver a short speech for an authentic audience!
How else could we engage learners in our board meetings?
It is imperative school leaders are instructional leaders. Learn some ways to engage with teachers in 5 Ways Administrators Can Serve as Instructional Coach. This post appears on Corwin Connect.
- What knowledge, skills, and dispositions do we want Salisbury students to possess when they graduate?
We used the data from multiple sources and developed a Profile of a Graduate and Learning Beliefs for our school district, Salisbury Township School District (STSD).
During the 16-17 school year, we created a Leading #YourSalisbury cohort which was formed at the district level and comprised of four building leadership teams. We are sharing the implementation of this process to the building leadership teams which includes approximately four teachers and the building leader(s). We intend to meet as a full cohort three times (October, January, and May.) Although I am leading this, Randy and another central office colleague, Ross Cooper, are also facilitating a portion of the professional learning. After spending 15-16 developing the vision, we have three main goals for 16-17.
- To build a shared understanding of the STSD Profile of a Graduate
- To build a shared understanding of the STSD Learning Beliefs
- To build a shared understanding of the 4Cs.
At our first session in October, we developed schema about the Profile of a Graduate and the 4Cs. We used materials from p21.org and EdLeader21. We then met with individual building teams for a half-day in their respective buildings to support them as they made connections to their context and prioritized learning for their staffs. Individual building principals developed agendas and the three of us supported their work. During the half-day building workshops, we shared takeaways and planned the professional learning the building teams would conduct with their respective faculties.
At our first whole group session, we provided resources related to the 4Cs. Here are a few of my favorites!
- Investigating the 4Cs
- Introductory Video
- Thinking Protocols (If you don’t check out anything else, dive into these thinking routines!)
Additionally, we curated resources and shared them with our department chairs. Department chairs embedded conversation and sharing related to the Profile of a Graduate in their regular department meetings. We want these ideas to permeate our school culture.