Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Trials and Tribulation of Year One in a Teacher Leadership System

We are quickly closing in on the end of the school year. It seems like only yesterday that faculty and staff were returning to the district and we were preparing to be one of the first school districts in Iowa to launch a teacher leadership system. Additionally we were preparing for the second year of our math curriculum implementation. This curriculum adoption was one of our primary drivers for being so aggressive in our pursuit of a teacher leadership system: we knew that a major curriculum adoption would require the expertise of a math instructional coach in order to ensure that curriculum was aligned to the Iowa Core Academic Standards and implemented with fidelity. 

Since we were deep into our math adoption by the end of the 2013-2014 school year and teacher leadership was 'Coming to a School Near You', it seemed like an appropriate time to revamp our antiquated literacy and language arts suite of resources for the 2014-2015 school year. Because of that and the new statewide emphasis on early literacy, we determined a literacy coach made a lot of sense for our leadership system. While we are now almost a full year into the literacy adoption, we have also taken time to implement the FAST system in order to give us good diagnostic data for our early readers. By the way, the growth of many of our readers is quite impressive!

Not to be outdone, the high school was a mere six months into a Connected Learning Initiative. Please take special notice of the language that is being used to describe a learning environment that most other schools refer to as a 1:1 Initiative. The distinction is very important because here at Hudson, it is not at all about the device or the fact that every high school student has one. It should be about what we can do with that device. So our efforts have focused on implementing technology at the highest level of instruction, where teachers are not merely substituting a computer for the same type of activity they had always done (filling in a worksheet on a computer screen for example). Rather , they are redefining instruction with the types of activities students are engaged--in and out of the classroom--with things we could not even dream about five years ago (like designing and printing projects on a 3D printer).

The question that now begs to be answered, almost a full year in, is what have we learned? First, and perhaps most important is the expertise that teacher leaders bring to the table. We have created a sense of urgency in our district and have unlocked some very powerful linkages that tie these initiatives together with our PLC process in a way that we didn't fully appreciate. This would not have happened without teacher leaders who are experts in their field. Our instructional coaches have been able to identify and rectify problems of practice through a collaborative network of teaching faculty right here in our own buildings. In some cases they have been able to leverage the expertise of their colleagues in the district in new and innovative ways.

Another key takeaway this first year is the critical role the building principal plays in the process. In schools where teacher leadership systems are doomed to fail, it can sometimes be traced back to resistance from the building principal. If building principals feel that roles of teacher leaders are ill defined, or they have a sense that their authority is somehow diminished, it can cause systems to stumble. We have taken deliberate steps at Hudson to ensure this is not the case. The roles of instructional coaches are clearly defined and these teachers meet and collaborate frequently with building principals. The fact is they meet a minimum of weekly and often times more than that. An often heard misnomer as it relates to the building principal is the idea that teacher leadership will somehow lighten the load, or take some 'bricks of the pile'. We have found that to be absolutely false. What is true in fact, is that it actually adds to the scope of responsibilities for the building principal. But this is not a bad outcome nor should it be cause for alarm! I can say with great confidence that our building principals are better instructional leaders now than they were one year ago! Indeed, this system has sharpened the skill set of everyone in the school district.

While our system is functioning as designed and we are pleased with the overall progress, we do not claim our system represents a panacea. For starters, we must recruit more teachers into the ranks of leadership in our system! Many of our practitioners have leadership skills and expertise that we are anxious to tap! I do hope our recruitment efforts are more successful in the future than they have been in the past. As our system was being launched, much effort and energy was devoted to ensuring the anchor roles in our system were clearly articulated and set up for early success. Because of this, I feel that not enough attention was devoted to the functioning of those who serve as model teachers. As we move into year two, we will have to explore how the intersection of theory and practice come together, particularly as it relates to the relationship between the instructional coach and model teacher.

So as we close out our first year of teacher leadership, I am excited for what we have learned and anxiously look forward to strengthening our system in year two!

No comments:

Post a Comment