Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Moving from Good to Great

This evening I attended a Back to School night on our Luzern campus.  It was a great evening and I ended up feeling very energised after attending the presentations made the parents who attended the evening.  This is the last of 4 parent evenings I have attended over the past few weeks (one as a parent myself) and I have started to feel that as a school we are beginning to move from good to great.  This is what became clear to me when I reflected on what I had heard at these Back to School evenings:

  • I heard a lot of talk about learning, rather than about teaching.
  • I heard single-subject teachers talk about how they integrated with and supported the programme of inquiry being delivered by the homeroom teachers.
  • I heard talk about formative assessments rather than summative assessments.
  • I have heard talk about comparing students to standards and learning outcomes, rather than comparing students to each other (and I only once heard how our IB scores compared with the world average).
  • I heard talk about making a difference in students' lives.
  • I have heard talk about working together collaboratively rather than working in isolation.
All these things make me feel that we are moving in the right direction.  Teachers are talking together and sharing their knowledge about what is working and they are building on changes that have already been made last year.  In addition, now that we have two new campuses I feel a sense of new beginnings and of the will to transform the school culture, I feel we are starting to move beyond just adopting a new mission statement and a new strategic plan and that many of our teachers are starting to "walk the talk".  Last year I felt as a new person that the experience I brought to the school was often colliding with what Ian Jukes called the traditional TTWWADI culture ("that's the way we've always done it").  This year I am feeling that we are starting to discuss the culture of the school in a more open way, the processes we are going through, the new practices we need to implement.

Over the summer holidays I watched some presentations from Jim Collins on YouTube and visited his website where he discusses moving from good to great.  He says:
Good to great comes by a cumulative process - step by step, action by action, decision by decision .... that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.  
So what needs to happen next?  Well I think that our leadership needs to actively work on giving us the time we need to enable us to work collaboratively, learn from each other and create something that is bigger than we could create as individuals.  In addition I think our administration needs to accept that in order for us to become continuous learners we will need to have more emphasis on professional development, both within and outside of school (and that will also take time).

At our staff meeting last week we were introduced to the idea of the best professional development occurring in the workplace, rather than outside.  While I don't agree totally with this, I do think there needs to be more emphasis on learning from each other at school and that professional development needs to be focused on developing the team, rather than the individual.  When I organised our recent SMARTboard training I did this with one teacher per team - but that teacher is now responsible for providing leadership within that team on the use of IWBs and for finding and creating resources for the team to use.

Another area that I think we need to work on as a staff is the idea of sharing the students achievements on formative assessments across each grade.  When I have been involved in this type of sharing before in previous schools I have found it to be extremely powerful in reaching consensus in how to judge the quality of students' work and in addressing areas of common concern.  For some teachers this can be a bit threatening, however, if they perceive this as a reflection on their own teaching, rather than as a constructive way of ensuring that all students are getting the time, help and support they need.

This year our co-ordinators have been renamed leaders.  Team leaders, subject leaders and so on.  I like the idea of developing the leadership of all teachers.  Recently I have even been reading articles about schools that don't have principals but instead run with teacher leaders, in other schools principals have seen their role as "leaders of leaders" (as opposed to leaders of followers).  Today I came across a blog about what teachers need from administrators where Brian Crosby wrote:
If you have been an administrator for more years than you taught full-time in an actual classroom, you are probably disconnected from what it is like to be a teacher. If you taught for less than 4 or 5 years ... sorry, but you probably don't know what it is like to be a full-time classroom teacher
I definitely agree that the vast majority of administrators could learn a lot from stepping into the classroom a bit more often!  Moving from good to great is a hard process - it involves us taking a good and critical look at ourselves and it involves being open-minded and willing to change many things - ourselves included.  It also involves the administration of the school being equally open and accepting of the need to make changes to themselves and their practices too.

Photo Credit:  Life is Good by Bob Fornal

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like you all are moving in the direction of great, the conversations you heard on back to school night are evidence of the change.
    I have been thinking a lot about administrators and the disconnect between administrators and teachers. I wonder if there shouldn't be a requirement of administrators to be back in the classroom full time every few years to stay connected and really understand what is best for students, the classroom, and teachers.