Teaming Up for Teaching and Learning: Instructional Leadership Teams Are Helping This District Refocus the Role of the Principal to Improve Teaching and Learning, and to Develop Leadership Capacity through Coaching and Professional Learning
Seaton, Mike, Emmett, Rae Etta, Welsh, Kevin, Petrossian, Alice, Leadership
Leadership in a 21st century school must focus on student achievement, providing a supportive environment where the educational staff can expand its capacity to learn, lead and work together. The Glendale Unified School District has worked for two years with Focus On Results, an external consulting group, to implement protocols for measurable, lasting improvements in student performance, school leadership and decision-making.
This is being done through training school Instructional Leadership Teams (ILTs), and through professional development embedded in day-to-day work of the schools. The central office has also been organized to provide ongoing support, time for school site walk-throughs by teachers and ILTs, and principal coaching to ensure that words translate into action. The success of our practice rests in the following research-based elements:
* Improve teaching and learning on a large scale, with the whole district involved.
* Re-focus the role of the school principal. Emphasize that his or her highest priority should be improving teaching and learning.
* Give equal focus to the "how" as well as the "what" of improving teaching and learning.
* Develop capacity through professional development and ongoing coaching with follow-up.
Seven areas of focus
Today's accountability requires we implement new hierarchical patterns of leadership that recognize and use every person's leadership qualities. With volumes of new knowledge and research in hand, and with coaching by Focus on Results consultants, our district is opening doors to classrooms and developing new relationships between teachers, principals and the central office staff.
Instructional Leadership Teams have been created or restructured at 22 schools (K-12) over the past two years. The teams, consisting of three to six members, have received more than 100 hours of professional development built around engaging their school communities in implementation of a strategic framework for whole school reform.
The process has seven areas of focus:
1. Identify and implement a school-wide instructional focus.
2. Develop professional collaboration teams to improve teaching and learning for all students.
3. Identify, learn and use effective evidence-based teaching practices to meet the needs of each student.
4. Create a targeted professional development plan that builds expertise in selected best practices.
5. Re-align resources (people, time, talent, energy and money) to support the instructional focus.
6. Engage families and the community in supporting the instructional focus of the school.
7. Create an internal accountability system growing out of student learning goals that promotes measurable gains in learning for every student and eliminates achievement gaps.
Teachers in leadership roles
The ILTs have created teacher leaders who are facilitators and coaches as conceived by Peter Senge. Teachers who in the past may have followed are now given time to collaborate and empowered to lead with their site administrators. In their new leadership roles they provide multiple perspectives while recognizing their interdependence in improving student achievement in a district whose schools have APIs ranging from 730-908. It is by looking at data, identifying a schoolwide focus and measuring progress that district schools will continue their growth and success in reaching NCLB targets.
Richard Elmore observed, "Learning about improvement occurs in the growth and development of common understandings about why things happen the way they do." This development is happening school-by-school, as each school is engaged in the process. It works well because each school moves at its own speed. Several schools have found it wise to "move slow to move fast."
Three perspectives on the process
So what does this reform look like from the prospective of a teacher leader, a principal and the central office?
Q: What is your role and how is responsibility shared as you implement a school-wide focus?
Teacher: I am a teacher leader at my school. I am one of four ILT members who, along with our principal, attend regular staff development sessions that teach us the process and provide guidance in implementing change at our school. As a member of this team, I am also responsible for collaboratively designing our school's staff development, interim measurements, and continued support for faculty learning.
Principal: I work collaboratively with the four teachers representing the school core academic areas. Together we serve as facilitators and coaches to guide our staff to address the seven areas of focus in order to gain instructional achievement. It is important to note that my role as a principal has changed from the former model. I must keep my focus on teaching and learning and curriculum and instruction. I am now committed to being in classrooms 50 percent of my work day. Staff knows this and looks forward to this instructional focus and my role in the process.
Central office: Our role is to understand and then share both the good news and the bad news about student achievement in the district and schools. We eliminate obstacles that interfere with school personnel being able to focus on student learning to close the achievement gap. We provide school/ district data and analysis for teachers and principals to access individual student/ classroom data. Once schools have the data, they can set individual student learning targets and focus instruction on individual student needs. We meet monthly as coaches with principals, who provide feedback as to how to work more effectively with their staff members. We provide professional development to support school ILTs to implement the school-wide best practices they have identified.
Q: How has the collective knowledge of the ILT and the school staff developed in this process?
Teacher: ILT members have become aware of the components involved in systematic school-wide academic achievement. We consciously seek to make improvements and monitor the effectiveness of activities in each of the seven focus areas. The staff's knowledge of research-based teaching practices has increased as we provide articles and experiences. We have cross-curricular study groups that meet once a month to read and discuss a common text. Teachers apply what they learn directly in their classrooms and report on the results.
Principal: A major thrust of the development of Hoover's ILT was the expansion of the four teacher core members to a larger school-wide community ILT. In addition, I combined the department chairs with the expanded ILT to create a Hoover Instructional Leadership Team. Data was examined carefully, which helped to determine that "writing to learn" would be Hoover's instructional focus. The process allowed staff as a whole to see the gaps in student achievement that would be addressed by content area writing.
In addressing the seven areas of focus, the staff identified and implemented three key teaching best practices--rubrics, graphic organizers and content area writing. These best practices have been developed by staff into excellent delivery strategies that are used daily by teachers. Staff feels ownership of this school-wide instructional focus, as opposed to viewing it as a "mandate."
Centra1 office: The central office provides and supports the ILTs by providing monthly training in protocols to build the collective knowledge of the ILT and for the team to use with staff upon its return to the site. The sessions integrate the latest in research from business and education on leadership, change and the phases of implementation. Central office staff actively participate with ILTs from the schools they coach. The process has also provided for in-depth critical review of what the central office can do to facilitate quality teaching and learning. This examination has not been easy, but it has improved our collective knowledge and the work we do.
Q: How have conditions changed through this process to support and value the learning of individuals and school community?
Teacher: We are moving toward an atmosphere of both greater accountability and increased support. Teachers are being asked to implement specific strategies and monitor results, while being given more individualized support. Granted, it is taking the more skeptical staff members longer to trust that they will indeed be supported and not merely punished in the quest for improvement, but we are making progress.
Principal: We are now in our third year of the Focus on Results led by our own ILT. I have asked our staff to "dig deeper" this year. Staff has clear expectations that the principal should be able to see the three best practices being used in all of the classrooms and content areas. Staff clearly know that the principal expects to see solid, standards-based teaching, strong engagement of students, and assessment used to demonstrate the mastery of that content area. At Hoover we often use the term "the teacher voice." We are always encouraging teachers to give us feedback and to be completely honest about what is working or not working. That approach also helps nudge the skeptics who resist effective change.
Central office: A central office cohort includes all district departments: business, facilities and operations and technology leaders. A protocol has been developed by the central office cohort for meeting with school staff to identify problems--issues that consume time or affect the learning environment. We learn what gets in the way of schools by meeting with a school secretary, custodian, teacher specialist or principal, who tell us what interferes with their efforts to support student learning. Principals cannot be in the classroom 50 percent of the time if they are dealing with issues the district could be handling for them. The cohort has also identified schools that are struggling with implementation, and through the analysis of data and dialogue with the school's ILT, each department has developed an action plan to help the school overcome barriers. This is a valuable change in how schools and central office work together.
Q: How do members of the school community collaborate differently than they did prior to the creation of the ILT?
Teacher: The collaboration at our school is much more directed than it had been in the past. Formerly, selected teachers teamed to design lessons and, in some cases, review student work. Now, staff not only have the opportunity to study a common text, but departments are asked to create course teams through which teachers focus on improving instruction and student performance.
Principal: One of the most incredible developments of our ILT has been the development of monthly study groups. The ILT breaks the entire teaching staff into small groups of eight to 10 people, who meet every fourth Wednesday as a small learning community and study a common text that will lead to discussion of strategies, build capacities and improve standards-based teaching. Staff members who never knew each other now meet together as a small learning community for 45 minutes on our banking day. Teachers talk, share and actually assign homework for each other for the next study group.
Central office: The assistant superintendents of educational services review the agendas of each of the schools' ILTs. It has been observed that these agendas have moved from frivolous discussions of copy machines and playground activities to serious discussions of student and school-wide data and assessment, specific instructional strategies, and closing the achievement gap.
Q: How has the school/district leadership provided training and expanded your capacity to do what you are being asked to do as you focus on an instructional strategy?
Teacher: The monthly training sessions to lead us through this process have been critical. In addition, the district has made sure schools have access to resources needed to train teachers at different levels of expertise with our strategies. We will not only send teachers to district training, we will have district personnel come to our site for workshops in skills like using rubrics to evaluate student work.
Principal: The core ILT team, my associate principal and myself attend monthly Focus on Results meetings. These monthly meetings are critically important since they help us maintain coherence in our journey and our road map to success with the seven areas of focus. Additionally, hearing, learning and working with other Focus on Results schools and teams builds our capacity to fortify our resolve.
Central office: In the professional development sessions, held once a month, protocols are introduced and time is provided for the ILTs and coaches to engage in dialogue and planning. The coaches and principals meet a minimum of two hours per month to problem-solve issues encountered in implementation of the school-wide focus through an inquiry process. The training has developed the capacity of teachers as instructional leaders. Schools are looking at how resources can be more effectively used to support teaching and learning. As central office staff walk through schools and classrooms, student work and rubrics show achievement. The superintendent and board have given both moral and fiscal support. They join staff at trainings, demonstrating that nothing takes priority over improving student achievement.
Q: How is instructional leadership practice different today than prior to the creation of the ILT?
Teacher: Today, instructional leadership at our school is a team effort. One person is no longer responsible for setting the focus and selecting staff development topics. As teachers understand they have a voice in what they need and how they learn, their interest and motivation to improve increase.
Principal: Instead of the "talking-head" principal who monopolizes staff development, I now have a committed and collaborative ILT that leads the school in examining key instructional issues. Also, I now have parents who regularly attend and are members of the ILT. Recently, a parent team member made a presentation to the teaching faculty at our opening faculty meeting. That is an amazing paradigm shift. It takes a great deal of work to continue to push staff to improve and get better, while at the same time understanding the difficulties that are involved in improving instruction.
Central office: As schools implement their school-wide focus, training in instructional walk-throughs has become a key component for all involved. Instructional walk-throughs take three forms: internal walk-throughs by the school staff; external walk-throughs by ILTs from other schools; and walk-throughs by the central office, grade-level teams of departments based on school or individual need. It is from this experience that both the hosting school and the visitors learn and hone their skills at implementing their school focus.
Q: What is the greatest hurdle the ILT had to overcome to become the collaborative body it is today?
Teacher: The greatest hurdle is introducing change in the school. It has been a tricky balancing act between pushing and supporting staff members to do things differently, whether it is in a faculty meeting or in their classroom.
Principal: The greatest hurdle has been maintaining consistency with the seven areas of focus. Hoover High School's road to success is not a temporary pilot program, but rather an ongoing process. The ILT must continue to produce high quality and engaging site staff development so that teachers do not lose focus and fail to make the connection between what they are teaching and what they expect students to learn. It is important to make sure that teachers know that their pedagogical and emotional teaching capacities are being expanded within this process, and that the struggle to improve is a challenging one.
Central office: Each school has confronted different challenges during the implementation of the school-wide transformational focus. Principals can tell stories of the challenges of change, but they also can tell the stories of new relationships with their staff members that have evolved from the opportunity to work collegially. Teacher leaders, like Rae Etta Emmett, have stepped out of their classrooms and taken center stage to lead and teach their peers new strategies to continue the growth in student achievement. The work is not easy, but it has been said that a million-mile journey begins with the first step, and these schools have covered thousands of miles. The results attest to the fact they are making a difference for the students of our district every day as they continue down this road, focused on student results.
Elmore, R. (2000). Building a new structure for school leadership. Washington, D.C.: The Albert Shanker Institute.
Focus on Results. www.focusonresults.net
Senge, P.M. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of a learning organization. New York: Doubleday.
Mike Seaton is director, Instructional Support Services, for Glendale Unified School District. Rae Etta Emmett is an English teacher at Herbert Hoover High School. Kevin Welsh is principal of Herbert Hoover High School. Alice Petrossian is assistant superintendent, Educational Services, for Glendale Unified School District.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Teaming Up for Teaching and Learning: Instructional Leadership Teams Are Helping This District Refocus the Role of the Principal to Improve Teaching and Learning, and to Develop Leadership Capacity through Coaching and Professional Learning. Contributors: Seaton, Mike - Author, Emmett, Rae Etta - Author, Welsh, Kevin - Author, Petrossian, Alice - Author. Magazine title: Leadership. Volume: 37. Issue: 3 Publication date: January-February 2008. Page number: 26+. © 2009 Association of California School Administrators. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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