Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Learning from Leadership Work: Maine Pioneers a School Leadership Network

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Learning from Leadership Work: Maine Pioneers a School Leadership Network

Article excerpt

Unless SCHOOLS AND school districts across the U.S. face a growing "leadership deficit." Accelerating retirements and reportedly shallow pools of applicants for administrative positions are raising alarms about future leadership. And all of this is happening just when schools will need the best leaders ever. Four years ago, Maine stepped up to this challenge in a novel way. The state's teacher and administrator associations, business leaders, and university system joined together to support the creation of the Maine School Leadership Network (MSLN). The program combines individual coaching, reflection on practice, and a "community of learners" network to support the efforts of principals and teacher leaders to develop effective and sustainable leadership for Maine's schools.

Evaluations of this new program have been very positive.1 Yet those of us who make up the MSLN staff are keenly aware of how difficult it is to pinpoint what aspects of our approach are creating our early successes. We meet frequently to assess the progress of our participants and to push our thinking and planning to the next level. In this article, we share some emerging lessons from our work.

The MSLN Approach

MSLN participants are principals, teacher leaders, and other school- level leaders who meet two criteria: they want to enhance their leadership, and they work in districts that explicitly support their efforts to do so. They make a two-year commitment to undertake a journey of learning with four integrated phases: an analysis of their school's leadership needs and culture; the identification of challenges they face as leaders; the creation of specific learning plans to develop new leadership skills and knowledge; and engagement in cycles of action, reflection, and learning to embed their new skills and knowledge in their practice. The primary supports in this process are a facilitator/coach, who rides circuit to schools; a team of three or four other participants to serve as critical colleagues; and additional participants from the same region who meet regularly.

As MSLN facilitators, three of the authors are employed approximately three-fifths time to anchor the in-school learning experience. We guide participants through the developmental process by observing them at their schools, communicating with them by phone and e-mail, and commenting on their journals and portfolios. Colleague-Critic Teams (CCTs) meet every three weeks to support each member's learning journey. The members of each CCT serve as observers, friendly critics of plans for leading and learning, and companions.

Leadership Development Plans (LDPs) serve to guide participants' learning activities, and their leadership performance and growth are periodically summarized in portfolios. The LDPs connect three central dimensions of leaders' knowledge: their cognitive grasp of learning, instruction, child development, school organization, and change; their interpersonal skills for mobilizing others through individual, small- group, and large-group connections; and their intrapersonal understanding of their "platforms" of belief about their work and, most important, about themselves as people and as leaders.2 Throughout the experience, participants collect evidence of their effectiveness in the form of feedback, and they document the fact that teaching and learning practices -- and student outcomes -- are changing for the better.

Four sets of lessons have surfaced from our experience so far. They are lessons about the importance of individualizing adult learning, the power of learning in practice, the place of evidence and feedback in this learning, and the vital support role played by other leader/learners.

Follow the Leaders' Individual Learning Trajectories

MSLN operates on the premise that school leaders are the "lead- learners" of their schools, fostering communities of learners among students, staff, and parents that are dedicated to improving student learning. …

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