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Results for: distributed leadership

Empowering Teachers as School Leaders at Four Rivers

May 7, 2019 by

This is the second post in a series about Four Rivers Charter Public School, an EL Education school in western Massachusetts. Links to the other posts are at the end of this article.

Four Rivers is making a deliberate shift toward distributed leadership, with teachers taking greater responsibility for leadership at the school level, not just in their own classrooms. Both teachers and administrators are enthusiastic about the initial results.

Four Rivers StaffIn traditional schools, authority is hierarchical. This can produce a culture of compliance that works against teachers taking initiative for school-level improvements. Distributing leadership helps to manage the complexity of competency-based schools, promotes leadership opportunities for educators, and builds structures and culture for collaboration, as explained in Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing, and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education. Cultivating empowering and distributed leadership is also one of the quality principles for competency-based education.

A shift toward teacher leadership at Four Rivers happened in late 2017 when Principal Peter Garbus and Assistant Principal Susan Durkee attended an EL Education leadership institute on this topic. Excited about implementing what they had learned, they recruited three teachers who had each been at Four Rivers for more than a decade to join them in forming an instructional leadership team. One teacher was from each of the school’s three grade-level tiers (7-8, 9-10, and 11-12). The team met last summer to make initial plans and then attended an EL Education leadership institute together in the winter to increase their understanding of effective strategies.

“Teachers should and need to be involved in leadership of the school, and that’s got to focus on students’ learning,” Garbus said. The teachers on the leadership team have played key roles in planning and leading the school’s professional development work, which began with creating the faculty work plan. This focused on enhancing curriculum and advancing three school-wide key learning outcomes developed collaboratively by the faculty—that students should become strong investigators, critical thinkers, and communicators; effective learners; and ethical people who contribute to a better world.­

The school’s focus this school year was to promote those key learning outcomes by enhancing the curriculum and deepening student engagement. Their first step was (more…)

Competency-Based Education Quality Principle #5: Cultivate Empowering and Distributed Leadership

November 15, 2018 by

This is the sixth article in a series based on the book Quality Principles for Competency-Based Education. You can find the section on Principle #5 Cultivate Empowering and Distributed Leadership on page 48. The links to the other articles can be found at the bottom of this page and will be updated as they are posted. For more on equity, see Designing for Equity: Leveraging Competency-Based Education to Ensure All Students Succeed.

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to implement or sustain a personalized, competency-based system through top-down bureaucratic approaches. You can’t simply write a memo to tell schools and educators how to change their practices. You can’t tell people to change their beliefs and assumptions. The change process requires engagement. Engagement requires trusting relationships and time for dialogue and learning. Trust is developed and demonstrated by listening to, investing in, and respecting the ability of others to make strong decisions. Thus, districts and schools making headway in creating competency-based systems will usually refer to the importance of empowerment and distributed leadership that give schools and educators more autonomy. But autonomy doesn’t mean the individual makes all decisions. Rather, it refers to decisions being made closer to and involving the people who are being impacted. (more…)

Investing in Shared Leadership

September 20, 2016 by

LeaderThis is the third article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

The shift to competency-based education requires a personal commitment from superintendents and principals to develop collaborative leadership and management styles. Changing personal leadership styles means these professionals must undertake extensive study, solicit feedback for reflecting on their leadership, engage in dialogue with peers and colleagues, and even seek out coaching. Each leader will have a different journey toward developing leadership/management strategies that are effective in creating and sustaining empowering, learning organizations. In the following discussion, three aspects of leadership are discussed: the call for a distributed leadership style, the role of a culture of learning, and empowering others.

Distributing Leadership

Superintendents and principals agree that top-down management doesn’t work well in competency-based environments—or, for that matter, in any large district reform. The traditional education system operates on a set of rules for the delivery of education services that has tried to standardize the inputs so all students have the same exposure to the curriculum. In top-down systems, higher levels of governance set the conditions for each lower level, leaving schools and teachers with little autonomy or opportunity to inform decision-making at higher levels. Traditional leadership styles are often characterized by people turning to the managers above them to resolve issues or set the direction. Changes are often communicated through memo, where dialogue is limited, if not nonexistent.

The problems with this kind of compliance-oriented leadership style are three-fold. First, top-down approaches undermine any efforts to create an empowered staff who will take responsibility for ensuring students are learning. Top-down decision-making essentially undermines accountability. Second, when employees look to the next level up to answer questions and resolve issues, it undermines the culture of learning and is a lost opportunity for building problem-solving capacity within the organization. Third, no superintendent or principal can have all the knowledge or answers about how to best respond to students or address organizational issues. During periods of dramatic change, this becomes a risk, as the superintendent or principal is unlikely to be able to understand all the ramifications of every change. It requires collaborative, iterative processes to create the new operational policies and procedures needed to support a personalized, competency-based environment. Fueling a competency-based system requires the engagement and ownership of students, educators, and community members alike—an idea that will be explored in depth as the series progresses. (more…)

Engaging Others: A Short Reflection on Leadership

August 5, 2016 by

ConversationI’ve been thinking about leadership a lot recently. Just about every technical assistant provider and intermediary I speak with refers to two challenges they face working with districts: lack of capacity and lack of leadership. The former is a phrase so general it lacks meaning except to reinforce the existence for the TA provider. We know that implementing competency education puts everyone outside their comfort zone to some degree. We know that everyone is climbing steep learning trajectories to build out the skills to better meet student needs. The phrase lack of capacity echoes a fixed mindset – as if people do not have the capacity to learn rather than a need to build specific knowledge or skills.

The latter issue is problematic as well. First, it is difficult to separate a leader from leadership skills. Obviously positional roles such as school board, superintendent, and principal means that there are leaders in districts in schools. So this must be referring to leadership skills. Second, it is not clear if it is inadequate leadership skills or the wrong type of skills.

  • Managing Personalized, Student-Centered Organizations: We know that district and school leaders need to tap into both leadership (motivate, inspire, and nurture culture) and management (plan, coordinate, monitor, and develop employees) skills, sometimes using both at the same time. It is very difficult to manage something if it is totally new to you, which is the case when we are in the midst of the conversion process. So this might be referring to leaders who are learning and need to become more adept to be able to manage new technologies, new systems, and new metrics. In addition, if we want schools to be more responsive to student needs, leaders will need to learn how to manage an agile organization – an entirely different approach from managing a bureaucratic one.
  • Paradigm Shifters: We believe that in order to fully and effectively implement competency education, the community, students, educators, and staff need to become comfortable with a new set of values and assumptions, including growth mindset, strategies to develop intrinsic motivation, cultural responsiveness, and empowering students (student agency). Neither a memo nor a speech will help people jump from one paradigm to another. There needs to be dialogue, experiences, and reflections as they understand the implications of the previous values and seek understanding of the new ones. Thus, leadership draws on facilitative approaches that can create experiences for others and nudge people toward new values, navigate the blindspots, move past discomfort and fear, and nurture leadership in others so that they might take active role in helping colleagues and the community embrace the new values.
  • Leadership that Engages Others: Perhaps the concern of lack of leadership means that leaders are using traditional leadership approaches when what they need is a different approach. It is going to be nearly impossible to introduce and guide the conversion to personalized, competency-based education using the traditional, hierarchical leadership styles based on the deployment of positional power over those lower down in the organization. In talking to leaders in competency-based schools, the concept of shared leadership is often raised. Leadership strategies that create shared leadership, including distributive, adaptive, and transformational leadership. These strategies depend on engaging others in solving problems. They are also very aligned with the values and assumptions that form the foundation of competency education. Thus, a very cohesive organization can be formed. Engaging others can also include engaging the community in on-going inquiry and dialogue. Continuous improvement means learning never ends.

(more…)

Distributed Leadership at Kettle Moraine

January 22, 2018 by

This article is part of a series on personalized, proficiency-based education in Wisconsin and the ninth in a ten-part series on Kettle Moraine. Please read the first post on Kettle Moraine before continuing to read this post, as it will prepare you to fully take advantage of the ideas and resources shared in this series.

Everyone is a learner at Kettle Moraine. And with the distributed leadership model, everyone can be a leader. Currently, 10 percent of the educators are recognized as leaders of teacher teams. There are several ways that KM is developing leadership. (You can listen directly to Superintendent Pat DeKlotz, Assist Superintendent Theresa Ewald, and teacher leaders talk about distributed leadership on the second video in the left hand column.)

Tools for Distributing Leadership

DeKlotz described a number of techniques that she and Ewald used to engage educators, to help build a shared understanding of the strategic vision for the district, and, listen for coaching opportunities when there were misconceptions or narrow understanding of what personalized learning means. These tools or techniques included:   (more…)

Lens 1: Building A Great Leadership Team

June 7, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 3.44.50 PMAs my responsibility changed from a single classroom, to a team, to the full school, I attempted to be the expert in everything from assessment to ventilation. I assumed I was hired because I had the answers. I also felt responsible to get the work done. How could I ask others to do it if I was not willing to do it myself? The work and the stress piled up. The attempt to be the lone expert in each and every room began to deteriorate my energy, and worse, my working relationships with my colleagues.

Then I listened to Creating Magic by Lee Cockerell, the once Executive Vice President of Operations for the Walt Disney World Resort. He suggested that the higher a person goes in an organization, the less of the actual work they do. He said leaders need to empower their direct reports by giving them a voice in how the job gets done. This allows for the innovative procedures and processes to be created.

Who were my direct reports? Schools are not designed as companies with departments with various levels of management. In my school, there are 61 teachers distributed amongst three grade levels: sixth, seventh and eighth, special education, and our Exploratories, with an assistant principal and a principal. Leadership teams in many schools are often constructed because someone fits a role instead of having leadership abilities. “The third grade representative is leaving, no one is interested, so I am going to do it” is not an uncommon statement. Another is, “Can we rotate the position for the year?” Both of these lead to a lack of consistency needed to build a well functioning leadership team.

I now find the leaders, and then have them assume the role. So my conversations might sound like, “Part of your responsibilities on the leadership team is to check in with the sixth grade teachers and see how they are progressing on our goals.” This also keeps the focus on the goals and the ownership of progress on the teams. (more…)

Three Ways Districts Stumble in Implementation

December 19, 2016 by

growthThis is the twenty-third article in the series Implementing Competency Education in K-12 Systems: Insights from Local Leaders.

How are you preparing for the implementation dip?

There is likely to be an implementation dip during transition years. After the initial work is done, confusion tends to rise and achievement scores may go down. The question is, how fast can districts get beyond the dip and embrace the new practices?

Pittsfield invested heavily in preparation and engaging the community, and then implemented the redesign in one year. It was a challenging year of “ripping off the Band-Aid.” But when they came back in September of the next school year, they were all going in the same direction and were ready to begin refining and enhancing their student-centered approach. Building in a late start Wednesday for teachers to meet made the implementation year manageable.

Chugach solidified the school board and district leadership commitment to a long-term strategy and created an intentional communication strategy that reinforced the idea that the system transformation will take several years. They also used data to intensify the sense of urgency by reminding people of the poor results in the traditional system as well as celebrating small steps of progress. Most importantly, they kept their community engaged so members could continue to deepen their understanding and celebrate alongside the students who were beginning to thrive and enjoy coming to school.

In interviews, district and school leadership have shared the ways they learned from their mistakes when they stumbled or the ways their neighboring districts have encountered troubles. (more…)

ACTIONS – Ideas and Strategies for School Leaders

January 25, 2019 by

This is the fifth post in a 10-part series that aims to make concepts, themes, and strategies described in Moving Toward Mastery: Growing, Developing and Sustaining Educators for Competency-Based Education accessible and transferable. Links to the other articles in the series are at the end of this post.

School leaders are closest to teachers, who in turn are closest to students. As a school leader, your daily actions, the values you model, and the decisions you make about resources like time and people have a direct impact on teachers and on the quality of education. Toward the end of Moving Toward Mastery I describe the leverage that school leaders have in their roles (page 69). But, I stop short of describing specific actions leaders can take. This post picks up where the paper left off, offering three big ideas and ten action ideas for school leaders who are trying to grow, develop and sustain educators for competency-based education. 

School leaders, my goal is not to tell you what to do — developing a change strategy is a very specific, local process. And, my goal is not to give you a lecture on what “should” be happening in your school. I recognize the complexity of the roles you play day to day. My goal is simply to offer ideas for actions that can serve as conversation points, entry points, or points of continuous improvement. (more…)

Leadership Capacity for Second-Order Change

November 11, 2013 by

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This article was first published in the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition October newsletter.

Dr. Robert Marzano identifies 7 out of 21 leadership responsibilities that are integral to bring about second order change in schools. They are as follows: Knowledge of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, Optimizer, Intellectual Stimulation, Change Agent, Monitoring/Evaluating, Flexibility Ideals and Beliefs.

All of these principles must be viewed in the light of an organization that is looking to innovate and transform themselves into systems that meet the needs of all children. This assumes that it is not enough to have a vision, it is necessary to move the organization through a change or innovative process. As the organization moves, it must be sustained. The traits that Marzano identifies are in constant demand of a leader’s attention. This is a very daunting task, the idea of building a school leadership plan for success is pivotal in creating the reality of your school vision. Keeping in mind the above traits… think about these five steps to build the leadership capacity within your school.

Develop a Strong School Leadership Plan. This plan must identify the key components above and their relationship to the shared vision. As the leader identifies the “what” and the “why” of their plan, they must now build the capacity to do the work. Each item must have a clear expectation, measurement and timeline. (more…)

10 Principles to Move Your School Toward Distributive Leadership

April 16, 2015 by
Nicole Assisi

Nicole Assisi

This post originally appeared at Next Generation Learning Challenges on March 5, 2015.

The most intimidating part of leading and teaching in a blended learning school is not the technology. It is not the data crunching, either.

In fact, the scariest part of blending and personalizing learning is giving up control.

Giving up control is the key to finding success as a leader, teacher and even parent in a blended school. First and foremost, you must trust the people around you. For teachers, that means giving the right tools to students, and then trusting students to drive their learning. Parents must trust in this new paradigm for learning and trust in the school leaders.

But administrators may have the trickiest part to play—they must share the leadership role, and trust “their people”—their students, teachers, parents. This distributed leadership approach is a collaborative effort undertaken between people who trust and respect each other’s contributions. By using principles of distributed leadership, school administrators can empower people to make great decisions, learn from mistakes and reach new heights.

Here are my 10 guiding principles for blended learning schools moving to a distributive leadership structure. (They’re inspired by the awesome leaders and colleagues with whom I share this work!)

1. Remember: Everyone is a Novice & an Expert (more…)

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