Lead with a Shared Sense of Direction
Think about the importance of a compass when sailing a ship. It allows you to journey to the places you wish to go. Without a compass you may end up adrift. A shared vision carries the same level of importance for school leaders. With a vision you have a sense of direction on a path toward success. Getting everyone on board with a vision, a goal, a sense of direction on what could be, becomes paramount in both sailing a ship and leading a team.
Get clear on the vision.
If you want to experience success on this journey, you have to get clear on what success looks like for your school. Can you name the specific, tangible experiences you want to create for students? For teachers? Practice stating them in just a few sentences. The practice of verbally trying to articulate a vision will increase your chances of creating it and finding it. Asking questions like the following are doorways to getting clear on a vision:
What change are we trying to make?
What does this change look and feel like for students? Teachers? Support staff and leaders?
As a leader, asking questions like those above in a grade level team meeting helped me keep things on track. It helped everyone know what questions we were trying to answer, and what problems we were trying to solve. Asking them in the context of the classroom also allowed me to help steer the vision from an idea into a lived experience.
Share the vision everyday, in ways large and small.
You want to inspire others to join you on this journey as a school's vision can only be achieved as a collaboration. Having the school community enrolled in the vision requires that they hear it and see it for themselves. When I was a principal, we had a goal to improve teacher clarity across the school. But what teacher clarity looked like in a given classroom or instructional move could change. Outline the journey with a professional development plan so everyone can clearly see where you’re headed.
When it came to assessment, for example, I could let teachers know that involving students in the assessment process could increase clarity. This was a small, specific way they could see their practice tied to the vision. With that focus, stories of teachers co-creating assessment materials with students could emerge and be shared as a specific, actionable way to spread the vision of clarity. My conversations with students during classroom visits highlighted their understanding of the assessment process. Sharing the outcome of these conversations at team meetings or faculty meetings brought the vision to life.
Build capacity through coaching, study groups, book clubs, and facilitating visits to other classrooms. When our vision was on student engagement, teachers chose the books they wanted to read and created book clubs around the topic. They assigned themselves readings and due dates. Faculty meeting time was allotted for discussion as we charted the highlights of each chapter. Each book club discussed the highlights at the meeting and then charts were posted in the faculty room as a reminder of our vision.
Bring people on board by finding connections to what they are already doing.
Teachers are already feeling the pressure with initiatives from the state, district, and school. When feeling overloaded, people can shut down or worry that doing something different will result in negative results. Changing course is hard and plotting a new course can feel like a loss. Teachers may wonder if changing direction was the result of something they did wrong. Adding more to an already full plate can seem overwhelming. Avoid new initiative overload by making connections between what you are already doing and the direction you want to go.
To ease change, find connections to what teachers are already doing. For instance, it's easy to shift your read aloud from literally reading out loud to an interactive read aloud where you share what’s going on in your head as you read, i.e. predicting, visualizing, word solving, and sharing those strategies with students.
Take advantage of school partners.
Outside consultants can offer a fresh perspective. They bring new ideas and perspectives and can frame misconceptions. Since they are not part of the school community, they are more objective and can offer new perspectives and ideas. They support many districts so they have multiple strategies to handle challenges.
When working with an outside consultant, review and discuss possible cycles of learning. Create time to meet with your consultant and let them know what you see students doing in classrooms. Propose a long-range, year long plan. Attend the professional learning sessions yourself, and watch for student engagement, motivation and growth. Whenever you can, make the growth and change public. Highlight the growth in newsletters, email, team meetings, and faculty meetings.
Plan for success.
When you plan for success you are more likely to achieve your goals. Your plan will keep you focused and on target.
Work to make the time run smoothly. What do you need to do to ensure a productive meeting? Set the expectations ahead of time and be sure to give teachers an agenda in advance. Schedule substitutes and allow time for teachers to meet briefly with those substitutes before their session begins. Acknowledge that planning for professional development requires additional planning time for teachers. Appreciate that teachers are giving up time with their students for their own learning.
Reflect and revise!
Reflecting in the spring allows for creative thinking and an opportunity to jump start the upcoming year’s journey. It also gives time to order materials, books, and journals.
In May or June, spend time to assess the current year. Invite teachers to reflect with you. You’ll want to replicate the successes and make adjustments to accomplish your vision and goals. Use this time to set your sights on the journey ahead and plan for smooth sailing.