A Really Great Week and The Instructional Leadership Pipeline

This was a really good work week. In fact, it was an excellent week! The kind where you find yourself singing boldly with songs on the car radio caring little if other drivers see you singing or not. A week where your energy surges late in the day, followed by a blissful crash while watching reruns of Downton Abby at night with your spouse. This week was one of those special weeks when you did things for others that really, really matter. In this case, the theme was on developing instructional leaders.

On Monday I joined a small group of other State University of New York (SUNY) professors and Deans to design and deliver professional development sessions for the Statewide Teacher Education Network (S-TEN). We spent a good days work planning one six-hour session on Data-Driven Instruction, and another session on the new Ed TPA. Much as P-12 has been scrambling to absorb changes through the Regents Reform Agenda, higher education has grappled with its own challenges, including making certain teacher and principal graduates are ready for more stringent certification assessments and prepared to successfully contribute to our schools and communities.

Monday was a good day, but Thursday did not disappoint as our New Principals Academy met for its monthly two-hour session (The New Principals Academy is a partnership project between Queensbury Central School District and SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury designed to provide professional development tailored specifically to the interests of new principals, assistant principals or other administrators). Prior topics have ranged from time management and evidence-based observations, to common core instructional shifts and the change process. On Thursday, I asked the group to identify their thoughts on the instructional leadership pipeline. More specifically, I asked them, 1) What are the best practices? 2) What are the needs, gaps? and 3) Advice to aspiring leaders to increase their skills. The ensuing discussions were lively and rich.

Some best practices and topics identified included: 1) solid, intensive internships; 2) time management; 3) networking opportunities with other instructional leaders and higher ed personnel; 4) conducting evidence-based observations; 5) the ISLLC Policy Standards; and 6) developing open lines of communication with all district stakeholders. Areas of need and gaps included: 1) more rigorous internships (a catch 22 for some as they grapple with full-time work and their ed leadership program); 2) an uncertain future (jobs, policies from State Ed, etc); 3) more real life, authentic learning experiences (implementation of CCLS, APPR, DDI,…); 4) mentoring programs; 5) requirements for rigorous research (thesis); and 6) classes that are current and evolve with the changing landscape of P-12 education. Finally, our academy participants offered the following advice to aspiring leaders: 1) step out of your comfort zones and vary your experiences and levels; 2) build relationships; 3) choose a strong prep program, not just a convenient one; 4) know yourself well–your strengths and weaknesses; 5) believe and have trust in your teachers; and 6) forgive yourself and others–everyone makes mistakes. What a fantastic day we had on Thursday!

If Monday and Thursday were good days, then Friday could be considered the icing on the cake for that was the day we officially launched Cambridge Central School District’s Teacher Leader Effectiveness (TLE) Grant. The TLE Grant Initiative was strategically designed by the New York State Education Department to, among other things, cultivate a continuum for developing teacher leaders within school districts. In Cambridge Central School District’s (CCSD) case, they wrote the grant to focus on empowering teachers to lead change (a la Race to the Top) through cognitive coaching, professional learning communities, and effective student teacher placements and mentorships. There are many outstanding components to the CCSD grant project design, including a focus on Wiggins and McTighes’ Understanding by Design, which happened to be Friday’s topic.

So on Friday, eight teacher leaders, two building principals, and the grant director convened at the SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury Branch Campus to officially launch the grant and delve into the Backward Design Process. What a day! What a group! It was evident from the start the selection of teacher leaders was done carefully and effectively. The eight individuals knew their craft and had a level of intensity and purpose that was inspiring! We discussed the three stages of Backwards Design. We reviewed the Common Core Standards and concomitant instructional shifts, and we looked at PARCC’s  Model Content Frameworks. When I asked the teacher leaders why they chose to do this important work, they explained their desire to be a resource for others. To serve their communities and colleagues. To increase communication and do what’s best for their children, school, and community. They were eager for the hard work ahead, in spite of the uncertainties and time such efforts demanded. They were inspiring, and when the day ended I was left feeling very, very satisfied and hopeful for our profession.

And so went a very good work week. One  which focused on the instructional leadership pipeline and change. A week that was about service to the profession, service to the community, and service to one another. A week that reminded us all that, despite the naysayers about school reform, anything is possible when you bring together a small group of talented, motivated, and passionate individuals interested in making a difference in the lives of others. Ahh, what a fine week it was, and what a way to set the table for next week’s important work.

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