Something to Think About

In my previous post, I talked about my principal’s strategy for professional development. When I wrote the post, I guess I didn’t think about how it was worded. I created a focus on strategies, teaching methods, and innovations, rather than on people. I can see how this happens easily. Upon further reflection, I recognize that the principal is focusing on meeting the teachers’ needs as individuals, but she has to look at the big picture, that is how our school performs as a whole. She does see each teacher as an individuals. I can’t really say for sure, because I’m not asking her direct questions about the other teachers, but based on what I know first hand, there are a few teachers that are really resistant to change. Talking to them, like in the Change Game isn’t working very well.

The principal knows these teachers well. She and her assistants have been in their classrooms several times to see what’s going on (or not going on). In addition, all the “resisters” are pretty vocal about their resistance. It’s been my experience, that “resisters” like to talk about resisting to try to drum up support. The innovators are quiet. They work hard, soak it all in, stay positive, and have fun. I think the principal’s idea of getting the innovators to work with the resisters in a “book club” is a cool idea because the innovators will get the chance to “share” in the context of talking about the book, rather than in a setting like a staff meeting, where it comes across as a little more “combative”.

The administration in the building can see what the individual teachers’ needs are better than they can see it themselves. The people who want to grow, who admit they need to grow, are growing. Those others don’t admit they have a problem (I sound like I work with a bunch of alcoholics), so it’s up to the leadership to “guide” them into reform.

Implementing Change in Real Life

My principal has come up with a strategy to help the teachers in our school change some of their teaching strategies. It became apparent that consultants, workshops, and endless meetings were not working that well. We’re going to start “study groups”. The administration will decide which study groups the teachers will participate in. They are going to select specific books for the teachers to read, discuss, and reflect on how the content relates to their own teaching practices.

That seems like a good idea. I offered to set up some online tools to help the teachers communicate to others about what they learn and how they are implementing new teaching practices. I think that our principal is showing that she is trying to tailor her professional development program to the teachers’ individual needs and that one size does not fit all. I also think that the study group model will help teachers develop better personal relationships.

I hope the teachers are receptive to the idea.

The Change Game

The process of change in an organization is complex. The Change Game was an interesting way to look at the process. I don’t think one could really understand the complexities of implementing change in any other way. We’ve all be part of the process in our own schools at one point of time. We might have read an article or even a book about what its like to experience change personally or within an organization. The game, however was a really effective way to examine the whole process.

The rules of the game were pretty straight forward and easy to understand. We got a slow start to the game because one of the members of our group wanted to really take a lot of time analyze the personalities of the members. I’m more impulsive. I wanted to jump right in and start taking action. In reality, one would never really know all the members of their district that well before conversations began and the stage was set for implementing the change.

I think I would have benefited from hearing what steps other teams took that was more effective. How did other groups approach the process and get their characters to move along farther and faster than we did? Would knowing the secrets of the game apply to implementing change in real life?

I wouldn’t say that playing the game was “fun” or “engaging” (maybe I’m just too tired after working a full day and driving over an hour to class), but I really thought I learned a lot from playing the game. I don’t think reading about or even talking about implementing change would get the point across as well as playing the game.

Knowing Everything

I got into this discussion yesterday with a close friend of mine about administration. She’s been in education for almost 30 years. I told her that I’m learning that it’s not how much you know as an administrator, it’s your ability to establish relationships with those you lead. She disagreed. She said that a really charming, engaging person would still make a terrible principal if he or she didn’t know current instructional practices. For example, if the principal didn’t have a clue about our writing program and was unwilling or unable to learn about it, she would be totally ineffective. On the one hand, that makes sense. How can a person lead others through a program if she didn’t have a clue? My point is that you can teach anyone anything, but it’s the personality of the administrator that would make him or her a good leader. My friend said she has know plenty of nice people but they were worthless as administrators because they were not well informed about best practices or current teaching and learning strategies.

I hope she is incorrect. I’ll never know everything, but I am working on the ability to be good at helping teachers develop their skills. I know a lot of really smart people who would make terrible leaders because they can not develop trusting relationships with others.

Getting to Know the Principal

This week’s activity of writing questions to ask an administrator was interesting. I went back in my files to look at the questions we wrote last year when I was on the principal search committee. I wish I knew then what I know now. Most of our questions related to the candidate’s skill rather than relationships. I learned that you learn a great deal more about a person from asking questions that bring out answers like, “I’d find out what their interests are and focus on their strengths.”

Last summer I interviewed for a position much like my current position except it was for a district rather than a school. The person who interviewed me said something similar to what I heard this week. You can teach anyone a skill. That’s easy. Finding a good match relates to the candidates ability to develop good relationships with others. That made a great deal of sense.

For an administrator to be effective, it’s probably less important for her to know a great deal about a particular program or strategy and more important for her to be willing to learn and willing to support others as they learn.

As it turns out, I didn’t get the job because I didn’t have the right skills, or knowledge. I’m sure I would have been great, but it is hard to convey my effectiveness in developing relationships in a 45-minute conversation.

Corrective Feedback

I looked up Marzano on the net. I downloaded a PowerPoint presentation that he created and apparently presented to a school district. The theme of the presentation is increasing student achievement. It’s a really long presentation, about 35 slides. At first I didn’t see much that would apply to this class.

In a set of slides, he was apparently trying to drive home the message that the way rubrics are created are very important to helping children understand how they are being assessed. He was explaining the importance of providing “corrective feedback”. To quote one slide he asks teachers to evaluate, “How effective am I when I provide feedback? When I provide feedback, to what extent do I believe that my students understand how well they are progressing toward specific learning goals when compared to a consistently applied standard, how much they have improved over time and how to improve their performance?”

The context of this was the teacher/student relationship but I can see how it also applies to the teacher/principal relationship as well. In my previous post I described how the school community is trying to implement change. If one looks at Marzano said in the context of the teacher receiving feedback from the principal on his or her performance, than it might be easier to understand why it is difficult for teachers to “improve” or in this case, change.

One of the most important steps to implementing change would most certainly be feedback. In Marzarno’s example in his presentation, he said that just giving points in categories on a rubric with a comment like “good job” doesn’t impact achievement. In this example then, a principal would have to provide specific “corrective feedback” so that teachers would know that they are progressing toward a specific goal. Providing effective feedback to the teachers as they implement the new writing program would help motivate the teachers to continue working toward their goals.

The teachers are not getting a very important form of feedback. This relates to the fact the teachers can’t really see immediate change in their students’ achievement. Because the teachers can’t see any vast improvement in their students’ writing, (that takes a great deal of time), they are not getting instant gratification about their instructional effectiveness. It was so much easier for them to know if they were doing a good job teaching a concept when they could grade a worksheet and see that their kids got all perfect scores. Watching students struggle through their first essay of the year couldn’t be to gratifying.

The Beginning of Learning Something New

The first day of class, we talked a great deal about change. Implementing change is a very difficult task. From my observation, one of the most important first steps is convincing the community that change is necessary. The community has to see the vision and continue to see it throughout the process. Without understanding the value of the change, so many are complacent and remain with the status quo.

In my own school, we have purchased new textbooks and are trying to learn how to teach writing. The writing program called 6 Traits has been around for a long time. It is research driven and and a very widely used program. For the teachers in my school, it is quite different than what they are used to.

Before the program was purchased and before we were given the first of many teacher inservices, the principal (who retired at the end of last year) showed the comparison of our writing scores to those of the neighboring public schools. The results were glaring. We clearly needed a better way to teach writing. Our scores in writing were far below those of children in the public schools. The teachers were convinced and seem to be willing to look at the 6 Traits and adjust their way of thinking. The first step seem to go well.

As the process continues, it becomes increasingly difficult the maintain the momentum. Some teachers, although they recognize that children need to learn to write, find it difficult to completely change their current teaching strategies. For example, it’s hard for some to give up the grammar workbook.

The struggle to implement change is that many forget the vision. They lose sight of why they have to expend the effort to learn a program, it’s vocabulary, the teaching strategies, and assessment techniques.

Change is necessary for growth. It is difficult to understand why teachers are not willing to change. It must be extremely difficult for the administration to keep reminding those resistant to change of the goal – to increase student acheivement. It must be such a bore to have to keep reminding those resistant to change why change is necessary.

I wonder what “The Change Game” is.