When it comes to leadership, there is no one right way or quick fix. Just like with learning, it's a process, not an event. Another given is that no matter where your practice lies, or that of your staff, there are always areas to improve. Herein is why I stated the following in Disruptive Thinking:
Chase growth, not perfection.
While honesty and vulnerability are necessities to get the ball rolling, action must follow to advance practice. From a learning standpoint, this requires a focus on pedagogical leadership, something I learned over time when I was a principal, which required taking a critical lens to my practice if I was going to help my staff do the same.
Even though I tried, the frequency of which I observed teachers rarely extended beyond the minimum expectation. Not only was I not in classrooms enough, but also the level of feedback provided through the lens of a narrative report did very little to improve teaching and learning both in and out of the classroom. If improvement is the ultimate goal, we as leaders need to focus on elements of our job that impact student learning. While it is understood that management is a necessity associated with the position, it should not be something that comes at the expense of improving the learning culture.
It is easy just to say how one should improve leadership or anything else for that matter. In Digital Leadership I offered ten specific strategies implemented during my time as principal that you can adopt now, which you can read about below.
Visit Classrooms Routinely
This seems so easy yet is a constant struggle. Consider increasing the number of formal observations conducted each year and commit to a schedule to get them all done. We formally observed each of our teachers three times a year regardless of experience. Another successful strategy is to develop an informal walk-through schedule with your leadership team. I mandated five walks a day for each member of my team, and we used a color-coded Google Doc to keep track of where we visited and the specific improvement comments provided to each teacher.
Streamline Expectations and Eliminate Ineffective Practices
Think about establishing a shared vision, language, and expectations for all teachers. We did this by using the Rigor Relevance Framework. This will provide all teachers with consistent, concrete elements to focus on when developing learning activities. Get rid of the dog and pony show ritual of announced observations. If lesson plans are still collected, ask for them to demonstrate what will be done two weeks into the future. Consider less of a focus on lesson plans and more on assessment by collecting these two weeks into the future.
Provide at least one suggestion for improvement, no matter what is seen during an observation or walk-through. There is no perfect lesson. Suggestions for improvement should always contain clear, practical examples and strategies that a teacher can implement immediately. Timely feedback is also essential.
Be a Scholar
Being a scholar helps you as a leader to improve professional practice and puts you in a position to have better conversations with your teachers about their own improvement. This adds a whole new level of credibility to the post-conference. I made an effort to align every point of critical feedback to current research. As you come across research that supports the types of effective pedagogical techniques you wish to see in your classrooms, archive it in a document that you can refer to when writing up observations. I spent each summer as principal reading, researching, curating, and adapting this for use during the school year. It saved me time when it came to writing up observations and greatly improved my relationship with my staff as the lead learner.
Don't ask your teachers to do anything that you are not willing to do yourself. This is extremely important in terms of technology integration in the classroom and professional learning to improve practice. If a teacher is struggling with their assessments, don't just say you need to work on building better ones. Either provide an example that you have created or co-create an assessment together.
Make Time to Teach a Class
This can be accomplished regularly during the year or by co-teaching with both struggling and distinguished teachers. During my first couple of years as an administrator, I taught a section of high school biology. This is leading by example at its best. It also provides a better context for the evolving role of the teacher in the digital age. A leader who walks the walk builds better relationships with staff and will be in a much better position to engage staff in conversations to improve instruction.
Constantly Seek Out Ways to Grow
Attend at least one conference or workshop a year that is aligned to a significant initiative or focus area in your school/district (the annual Model Schools Conference is a fantastic option). Try also to read one education book and another related to a different field such as leadership, self-help, or business. So many powerful lessons and ideas can be gleaned once we venture outside the education silo. To complement traditional means of professional learning, work to create or further develop a Personal Learning Network (PLN).
Reflect Through Writing
Writing has enabled me to process my thinking resulting in a more critical reflection of my work in relation to teaching, learning, and leadership. Our reflections assist us with our growth and can also be catalysts for our staff and others to reflect on their practice or grow professionally. Having teachers write a brief reflection prior to the post-conference is an excellent strategy to promote a conversation on improvement that isn't one-sided.
Portfolios were a requirement for my teachers and complimented our observation process nicely. They provided more clarity and detail on instruction over the entire course of the school year. Portfolios can include learning activities, assessments, unit plans, examples of student work, and other forms of evidence to improve pedagogical effectiveness. They can also be used to validate good practice.
During the first quarter of each year, I co-observed lessons with members of my administrative team. This was invaluable for many reasons. For one, we were able to utilize two sets of eyes during the observation, as some things will always be missed when done solo, no matter how much experience you have. This also allowed me to work with my team to help them improve their leadership. It also helped me grow as every conversation helped me further reflect on what I saw.
There is nothing more important than ensuring quality learning is taking place in our classrooms. The ten strategies presented can be implemented immediately to improve your leadership while enhancing the practice of those you serve.