Illinois District Sends Administrators Back to School: Community Consolidated School District's Leadership Academy Is Teaching Administrators How to Coach Teachers

By Whylly, Lynn Russo | District Administration, March 2014 | Go to article overview

Illinois District Sends Administrators Back to School: Community Consolidated School District's Leadership Academy Is Teaching Administrators How to Coach Teachers


Whylly, Lynn Russo, District Administration


COMMUNITY CONSOLIDATED SCHOOL DISTRICT 59

Arlington Heights, IIII

Schools: 14 (K8)

Student enrollment: 7,000

Staff and faculty: 950

Per-child expenditure: $13,750

Students receiving free or reduced-price lunch: 52%

Website: www.ccsd59.org

An instructor in a classroom addresses the students. "We're going to discuss how to ask questions in a way that doesn't sound threatening, but instead builds trust. Let's look at some of the vocabulary we're using now to interact with teachers and how, through word substitution, we can reshape those conversations to foster better outcomes."

This is a typical conversation in the 21st Century Leadership Academy, part of the Community Consolidated School District 59 in Arlington Heights, Ill., just outside Chicago. Learning is happening, but this is not your usual K12 class. These are professional development sessions where the "students" are the district's administrators. All 45 administrators--including Superintendent Art Fessler, assistant superintendents and assistant principals--are required to attend seven full-day sessions throughout 'the year. Administrators also participate in two-hour meetings every Tuesday. Altogether, each administrator receives an annual 63 hours of PD focused on building the leadership skills needed for the 21st-century classroom.

The seed for the academy was planted before Fessler arrived at the district July 1, 2013. "When I was superintendent at Oaklawn schools (from 2010-13), we focused a lot of our time on training teachers on 21st-century tools," says Fessler. 'After reflecting on that, it occurred to me that we were asking our principals to give effective feedback to teachers to help them grow, but the principals didn't have proper training to be successful doing that."

Also, after getting to know each of the district's school leaders, Fessler concluded that there was no cohesiveness or consistency across the district in how feedback was being given to teachers. "We had administrators at 14 schools doing things 14 different ways," he says.

Ben Grey, former CIO of Oaklawn--whom Fessler brought over to CCSD as chief innovation officer shortly after he arrived was also concerned that CCSD's leaders didn't have a strong understanding of how technology was being used for learning. "That's when we realized that before we could have a realistic expectation that our teachers should be distinguished in technology-based learning, we needed to set the same bar for district leaders," says Fessler.

Planning the academy

Over the summer, Fessler discussed the situation with his seven-person cabinet, which includes three assistant superintendents and Grey, among others. "I threw out this problem and said I see this gap, let's talk about how to address it," Fessler says. After days of planning, the leadership academy was ready to launch.

Together, the team designed a training program for administrators that would focus on three areas. Reflective practice included posing questions or challenges, then working through the answers or solutions). Two-way dialogue and discussion was critical to the learning process.

One example of a dialogue that took place is how to advise teachers on the best ways to use the four Cs--critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity--in every lesson. …

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