December 22nd is the Winter Solstice, marking the first day of winter in the Northern Hemisphere. In terms of sunshine, it is the shortest period of daylight north of the equator. I enjoy the four seasons, but find the long nights of winter a challenge. Driving to and from work in the dark wears on me. I miss seeing details revealed by the morning light, and fumble my way to the house door after a good days work. Believe it or not, I have a file from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that lists the daily sunrise and sunset times for Glens Falls, New York. I refer to the file during this season to buoy my spirits as I calculate each day’s increasing duration of sunlight that follows the Solstice.
Light affects us and provides clarity in what we do. Sunlight induces the release of our feel good neurotransmitter, serotonin, which lightens our spirits and perhaps increases our productivity. As we continue marching through Race to the Top (RTTT) reforms, there are times when we labor through periods of darkness with little clarity to direct us forward. The newness and uncertainties of Annual Professional Performance Review models, Student Learning Objectives, and various growth measures are potential stressors that can compromise our sense of efficacy. Fortunately, shedding light on the subject can ease the burden.
Presently my colleague, Courtney Jablonski, and I are conducting sessions on principal evaluation systems. Under the RTTT deliverable of Great Teachers and Leaders, we are working with district and building leaders on understanding the the ISLLC Policy Standards and evaluation protocols of principal performance. With Student Learning Objectives, growth measures, and local assessments yet to be fully resolved, the confounding nature of principal rubrics and evaluation systems cast shadows in the minds of our hard-working audiences.
Courtney and I work with some of the state’s finest administrators and educators, and we empathize with our colleagues’ concerns and emotions. We recognize our roles as Network Team facilitators are to present educators and administrators quality information, support, and assurance that sunnier days will arrive as the State Education Department provides greater resolution on teacher and principal accountability systems. Today (December 20th) we learned that the State Education Department will be seeking content experts from the field to help create Student Learning Objective exemplars. SED has also posted a webinar on SLOs on the EngageNY site, and we know an agenda item at the January Network Team training is on SLOs. SED is working hard to shed light on RTTT components, and the timing is right.
Superheroes abound in the entertainment world, enticing the imaginations of young and old alike. Solving crimes, displaying superhuman traits, and ridding the world of darkness and demons, our superheroes have endearing qualities which reassure viewers that things always work out in the end. My favorite was Superman, played by George Reeves. Superman was very quick (faster than a speeding bullet), strong (more powerful than a locomotive), and a good jumper (able to leap tall buildings in a single bound). Best of all, hidden behind the cape was a “mild-mannered reporter” named Clark Kent. In the movies and comics, the general public depended on their superheroes. Can the same be said for principals in our public schools? Are teachers, students, and community members expecting too much from their school principals?
In an earlier blog, I wrote of the need for teacher leadership in school reform. The burden on principals to be all things to all people is akin to superheroism–its fictional and a failed concept. A principal’s role is too diverse and demanding to fully provide the instructional leadership schools desperately need in this era of transformation. We have an instructional leadership problem: Common Core State Standards, new Annual Professional Performance Review systems, Data-Driven Instruction, Student Learning Objectives, and other school reform initiatives are exceeding system capacity. Throw in a funding cliff and you’ve got a highly stressed environment.
Fortunately, the construct of distributed leadership has been addressed in significant studies (Harris and Spillane (2008); Wallace Foundation School Leadership Studies), and states and organizations around the country are exploring teacher leadership options. Just last week, the National Education Association released Leading the Profession: NEA’s Three-Point Plan for School Reform which includes recommendations for teacher career pathways and Peer Assistance and Review (PAR)-based evaluation systems to allow educators greater ownership of the profession. NEA’s report and research on teacher leadership sweeping across the nation are encouraging and offer hope that public education is ready to heroically step away from the late 19th century assembly line leadership model and into the 21st Century world of collaboration and shared leadership.
Ten years ago I started wearing reading glasses, a.k.a. magnifiers. Nothing fancy, just the $5.00 kind you’d find in a well stocked hardware store or pharmacy. One pair sufficed at the start, but I quickly realized I was spending way too much time looking for that one pair. Now I have seven perched on important surfaces in my home and work. There’s also a pair in the car—you never know. Another pair of glasses I’ve worn as far back as I can remember are the rose-colored type. I didn’t realize I even wore such glasses till a former fling of mine in a heat of emotion told me to “Take off your rose-colored glasses!” She later explained what they were.
I like my reading glasses, and need them to function. However, I love my rose-colored ones, and can’t imagine life without them. They’ve come in handy so many times; especially when the odds were stacked and the journey seemed impossible. I’m finding those rose-colored glasses critically important now as we all grapple with RTTT, legislative mandates, and a pending funding cliff. In the oftentimes frenetic pace of school reform, I worry what might happen were I to lose those glasses. You don’t just go to the Five and Dime and pick up another pair. In many ways, they are irreplaceable. They make up the core of our being, and propel us through the obstacles that appear in our lives.
My thoughts that prompted this blog entry were the product of a morning visit with a friend and fellow Glens Falls YMCA early morning regular. He’s a local administrator in the region, and like many, is feeling the pinch of doing more with less. We lamented the challenges that lie ahead, the lack of time to get it all done, and the roadblocks in our path. We commiserated in our beliefs that children deserve the best schools we can create, and that Race to the Top holds the promise of improving what we do in all public schools. “When you get right down to it,” he said, “it’s just something you do because it matters.” I wonder if he knows he’s wearing rose-colored glasses?
The present churn in public education is unprecedented, and it’s during these stressful times that people’s anxiety bubbles over. Stress is fear of the unknown, and there are many unknowns (and fears) yet to be elucidated in this wild ride called RTTT. My advice to friends and colleagues is to focus on the Common Core Learning Standards and Annual Professional Performance Review for teachers, distribute the leadership to empower others and lessen the load, and don their rose-colored glasses. For those ahead of the curve, a deeper dive into Data-Driven Instruction is merited. Regardless of one’s readiness, sometimes we need time for clarity. This is one of those moments. So, if you’ve misplaced your pair of rose-colored glasses, or the spinning plates are starting to wobble, focus on one or two things and do them real well. Clarity will return.