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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Meeting with the New Superintendent to Discuss 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. In late July I'll have the opportunity to discuss this topic with our new superintendent of schools. I outlined possible points for the discussion in this post.

Whatever the root cause of the divide noted above, 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 powerful role in this movement.

What's missing, however, is authentic decision making processes 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, teachers 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, faculty senate meetings and administrative meetings are shared in a timely, easy-to-access 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. It could be that hiring an outside, objective consultant related to good, strategic process in the modern age would be helpful in this regard. 
  • Eliminate hearsay, conjecture and games of "telephone" by communicating clearly and regularly using proactive, modern and streamlined models of good communication with hard-copy references. 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. Match these efforts in proactive ways with the evaluation process to develop rather than simply judge educator work and progress. 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, sensitively and transparently 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. Often professional learning efforts do not match current research related to cognition, memory and deep learning.
  • Create time and opportunity for educators to share ideas, debate strategy/effort, exchange materials, and develop their teaching/learning craft, practice, and repertoire. in meaningful ways. This post demonstrates an avenue in this direction. 
  • 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. Timely share of all metrics has the potential to serve teaching/learning well. 
  • 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. In addition, it would be helpful to publish system organization webs so that all know how the system operates with regard to leadership and effort. At present, this is confusing to some. 
  • Provide greater leadership opportunity for educators by listing new jobs and opportunities in accessible, timely ways and creating clear coaching, guidance and compensation with regard to career ladders. 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. By posting jobs and descriptions in timely and accessible ways, we develop opportunities for educators. Further, it could also be advantageous to let educators help determine roles, jobs and career ladders that are needed to serve the system well. In reading Empowered Educators, it occurred to me that many systems don't think about changing roles or adding new kinds of positions to elevate system effort and result--this might be something to think about. 
  • 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 learning/teaching 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. 
  • Institute greater lead time in order to provide stakeholders with the think time and scheduling time to be fully involved in decision making, new initiatives, and systemwide development. 
  • Establishing a Twitter account for systemwide share of ideas, questions and professional learning. Establishing and promoting a Twitter feed like this will support efficient, ongoing share of all professional effort in the system. Educators, family members, and administrators could easily share links to articles, events, ideas, and questions as well as seek feedback and response. This could help to build a dynamic learning community of students, family members, staff, and administrators. 
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/or 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 effect. 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 or bettered 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.

Further another administrator noted that anyone could teach elementary school math. This too was disappointing and worrisome particularly since educators all around me spend significant time developing and improving their craft to teach well. A comment like this demonstrates a lack of understanding, regard, and investment in teaching and learning which is contrary to the evidence so well supported in Empowered Educators which demonstrates that successful education organizations highly regard the profession of teaching and recognize that not just anyone can teach. 

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 direction. 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. They will mirror the future-ready leadership and learning efforts that they need to foster in the students they teach.

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.