Monday, September 8, 2014

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal

Recently Mike and I both read and enjoyed a blog post from George Couros on “5 Questions You Should Ask Your Principal.” We thought we would respond to these questions for this week’s newsletter. Each question provides opportunities for further discussion and we invite you to talk more with both of us about leadership and our vision for RMS.

1.  What are some ways that you connect with your school community? (Fostering Effective Relationships)
I try to be active in many of the different layers of our community. For me, this begins with being aware, present and listening. This might take the form of increasing visibility in the school through classroom visits, time in the halls and common areas, participation in clubs and school activities, attending performances and games, engaging through social media, and attending community events. As an example, I’ve made some wonderful connections by choosing to run in the school neighborhoods. Out on the run I end up meeting and talking with parents and community members. While the conversation might be brief, the connection is established. (Mike)

Similarly to Mike, I think it is important to be present in students’ and staffs’ daily lives.  For me that means throughout the day finding ways to observe and talk with students and staff about their interests and experience(s) at RMS.  Social media has also given me a way to make connections with members of our community that aren’t always present in our school building, and a way to share my daily experience at RMS with our larger community. (Amanda)

2. What are some areas of teaching and learning that you can lead in the school? (Instructional Leadership)
One aspect of teaching and learning that I feel I can effectively lead and engage in relates to my experience as a teacher of the inquiry process. I am a big believer in student-directed learning and exploration. As a science teacher, I spent some time at the beginning of the year introducing tools and techniques. From that point forward, students were free to use these tools to experiment and test their ideas both related to the content of the day and also on whatever area of science, tech or engineering they might find interesting. The result was a classroom experience that extended well beyond the walls of my room and a sense of discovery that was constantly surprising us. I think creating experiences like this are crucial to helping students see the connections between our content areas and also provide practice with skills that will serve our students well in whatever direction they might go. (Mike)

My past experience working as a technology integrationist helped me develop technology skills, but I think more importantly it shaped my views about collaborative teaching relationships and student-centered learning.  As a tech integrator I was fortunate to be able to sit in on classes and learn from my peers.  Observing teachers and participating in team meetings and committees helped me find access points to talk with teachers about connections between teachers, across our curriculum, and ways I felt I could support them in areas they had expressed interest, but were hesitant to try on their own. This simple act of providing support in planning, teaching, and being present in another teacher’s room, for many teachers, gave them the courage to try new things and often to let students be more involved in the design of their classroom experience. (Amanda)

3.  What are you hoping teaching and learning looks like in your school and how do you communicate that vision? (Embodying Visionary Leadership)
I hope that our teaching and learning is structured in a way that provides our students with avenues to engage in real self-awareness of who they are as a student in that particular moment, and that we provide avenues for students and staff to build productive collaborative relationships.  Whatever shape instruction takes, I think the most important aspect of teaching and learning is that students and staff are able to continue to develop or be turned on to areas they want to explore.  

I plan to communicate my vision through the conversations and experiences I have with staff around supporting them in their goals, but also in observations from visiting their classes.  I try to model self-awareness, reflection and continuous growth through my use of social media like my blog and Twitter and in participating in professional development.  These tools and opportunities help me stay focused on sharing what I believe about teaching and learning and areas I continue to explore. (Amanda)

I would agree with Amanda, especially with respect to the importance of creating opportunities for students to work collaboratively to solve and explore real-world problems. When this work is student-directed, teacher supported, even better. Further, I think it is important that students see and experience us learning alongside them. All educators talk about being life-long learners, when this is visible the energy is contagious. I also think that a diversity of learning experiences, teaching style and preferences, and curricular experiences are a crucial piece of what learning looks like in an effective middle school. To that end, our program is designed specifically to allow and encourage multiple paths for learning. Our students are able to play a part in designing their learning experience and as a result, engagement goes up.

Communicating and developing a vision for teaching and learning is a collaborative exercise. The principal of a school should facilitate the opportunities with all of the stakeholders in our organization that allow us to discuss, refine, and develop our learning environment. In addition, I have the responsibility to ensure that each and every student in our school receives the very best from each of us. (Mike)

4. How do you build leadership in your school? (Developing Leadership Capacity)
Building leadership in our school begins by thinking about what it means to be a leader. If we collectively believe that anyone can lead and that making those opportunities available is important that we are off to a great start. With staff, we hope to engage everyone in efforts to distribute leadership and decision-making across the school. We are fortunate to have an incredibly talented and passionate team. It makes good sense to trust the people we work with to lead where they have a passion. In many ways, one of the best ways to support leadership in the building is for each of us to reflect on how we can be a great follower (for me, this can be more difficult).

In addition, I think examining how we can continue to promote student leadership in the building is important work for us to consider. Our students are passionate about making their school the best it can be. Further, they have great ideas and are willing to do the work to get us there. What are the structures and opportunities that we can put in place to further their leadership at RMS? Lets talk about this and see what might be possible! (Mike)

I think it is important to invest time in getting to know people, and through these relationships, situations will arise where we can make connections between people and opportunities.  Having an understanding of the skills and passions of our staff can also shape our focus towards areas where we can draw on the talents of our staff to lead the RMS community.  It is also important that staff feel that supported by Mike and I so they feel comfortable and encouraged to present us with their own ideas about ways they can contribute to leadership at RMS. (Amanda)

5. What will be your “fingerprints” on this building after you leave? (Creating Sustainable Change)
I strongly believe in the value of real collaborative relationships.  I am excited by our challenge to look at how we can develop a system of peer observation and feedback in a way that can foster conversation about why we do what we do here at RMS.  Through these conversations I think there is an opportunity to consider how we can structure our teaching and learning experiences to best meet the goals of our RMS community. (Amanda)

Some of the great books on leadership emphasize the importance of what they call “Level 5 Leadership.” “Good to Great” by Jim Collins and “The Moral Imperative of School Leadership” by Michael Fullen are two examples. Both authors emphasize the idea that if a leader is effective in any organization they can step out of the picture and the moving parts continue to function and even thrive. For this to happen, a tremendous amount of work and effort needs to be put in to building capacity and expertise within the organization. Individuals need to be empowered to make and effect change that benefits our students. Collectively, everyone in the organization needs to have a shared vision for the future. I hope that at whatever point I leave RMS I will be able to do so with confidence in the continued success and positive collaborative culture of what is a truly great school. Terry Thompson so wonderfully described where we have come from. I think we will continue to be on a path full of opportunity, growth and excellence. Truly, an exciting time to be at RMS. (Mike)

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