Welcome to my blog, and thank you for taking the time to also visit jhlang.com. With the help of a dozen youtube tutorials and intermittent coffee breaks, I made my very first webpage.
I still have a long ways to go before gaining my IT badge, but I did enjoy this challenge as I put forth my most novice efforts. It is likely that my students design better sites in half the time I took to make this one. I can live with this though because the students are what motivates me to continually challenge myself as a leader in education. As a future administrator I believe it is important to challenge our students to try new experiences and that we also challenge ourselves, so this crack at making websites was my attempt to “walk the walk.”
Throughout my graduate course work, independent research, and even friendly debates with pals after Wednesday night basketball games, I have managed to find my voice on education policy and discover what it means to be a leader in this field. The intent of this blog post is to share that voice, so I have broken my instructional leadership philosophy down to five key points which all tie into a Nicholas M. Butler quote that I often refer to.
“America is the best half-educated country in the world.”
I believe the United States has many of the best schools in the world, but unfortunately we also have some of the bad ones. It is not a particular person or group’s fault as much as it is an issue of inequity. All schools in the US were not created equal. And if you are a teacher in one of these underprivileged schools then you know what I mean. Many of these struggling schools operate in unhealthy climates and experience high rates of attrition. Why, because they’re bad places to work! The organization’s culture has been disrupted by budget cuts, policy mandates, and consequently high employee turnover. When these occurrences become the norm, then building learning communities rooted in collaboration and efficacy become more difficult than blindfolded web design.
I believe in our public education system even though some schools are inequitably equipped with tools to produce students gains. If we choose to close the achievement gap, then we need to address these differences from school to school and acknowledge poverty as an issue affecting achievement in urban and rural poor public schools. Instead the solution to boost gains has been to privatize schools, silence unions, and replace traditional teacher salary scales with merit pay systems. If we wish to pay teachers based on merit, then I want to know how we differentiate the the top from the bottom tier of teachers? If teacher merit is based on standardized test scores, then we will continue to fuel the high stakes testing bandwagon while triggering more cheating scandals. Worst of all, we will fail to prepare students for the creative economy we are entering. The best way to pay teachers is to pay them enough so money no longer becomes an issue. Name me a teacher that went into education to become rich and I’ll give up my aspirations to instead design websites. Merit pay is not the best way to motivate educators. Educators are best motivated by the intrinsic rewards they receive when their students learn. It is that “Ah-ha moment” that simultaneously engages the students and motivates teachers to stick around the public sector for a little while longer.
Philosophy Point 1: Creating an Environment Open For Innovation and Collaboration
As a principal I am committed to helping urban and rural schools make organizational change that will close inequity gaps in the worst schools while also keeping our teachers from leaving the profession. I will do this by adopting techniques that will help build professional learning communities that innovate and operate purposefully to make all our schools equally great.
One way to aid the change process, making schools more open to change and collaboration, is by identifying the hidden components that compete against our change efforts. A simple way to do this is by developing an immunities map. This is what one might look like.
||What are you doing or not doing
||Hidden or competing commitments
||My big assumption
|I am committed to improving school wide achievement
||I am not collaborating with others.
||I am taking on too much responsibility while not delegating to other professionals
||If I don’t do the work then it wont be done correctly
(Kegan & Lahey, 2009)
As seen in my example immunities map, adapted from a blank Kegan and Lahey map, the principal is committed to improving gains, but now realizes that her big assumption is getting in the way of school-wide innovation and collaboration. The discovery of these assumptions can lead to strengthening organizational health. Another tool that can be used is called Levels of Use, or LoU. According to Gene E. Hall and Shirley M. Hord, when educational leaders innovate there is an assumption that their new program will successfully be employed (Hall & Hord, 2011). Their research has demonstrated that this is not the case and therefore LoU becomes an effective tool defining the different levels of use. Hall and Hord break the levels up into two categories: users and nonusers. The five levels of users are renewal, integration, refinement, routine, and mechanical use. The three levels of nonusers are preparation, orientation, and nonuse (Hall & Hord, 2011, p.94).
Philosophy Point 2: Invest In The Future, Not in Standardized Tests
It has become a popular trend in today’s society to criticize public education. Many stakeholders are pushing to create change that I do not see as being valuable to our educational system. More standardized testing, education privatization, and merit pay are red herring initiatives distracting us from true change. The charter movement is a threat to our public schools and middle class American values with the deunionizing of our school districts. I ask where is the evidence that supports the need for more testing and privatization of our schools? Where is the evidence to prove charter schools or virtual schools are more effective at educating our youth? Has rote test preparation become our new curriculum? Do we want an intelligent and thoughtful citizenry, or a society good only at taking tests?
Our students must be prepared for the Conceptual Age because the Information Age is already behind us. According to Pink, in the Conceptual Age, left-brain dominant people will excel. As globalization opens up employment opportunities across the globe, the professional qualities in demand will be creativity and global competencies (Pink, 2006). Many incorrectly assume America was once on top in international test scores. Just as Reagan and A.N.A.R. sparked controversy and doubt in our education system, today’s policymakers are again grabbing our attention regarding the state of American education. Now that our attention has been piqued, let us make the right decisions for educational policy in the future. I hardly believe in this public education apocalypse, but perhaps the heightened concern for our schools may lead to the right decisions if policymakers step up and other leaders in education let their voices be heard. The Steve Jobs of the world didn’t become successful because they were good at standardized tests. It was Job’s ability to think outside of the box that made him a revolutionary in his field.
It is ironic that many stakeholders in education today revere the education systems of Asian countries that have in recent years been working to emulate American education (Zhao, 2009). In Zhao’s book he discusses how the Chinese have made strides to move away from a rigid standardized test culture. To be a leader it often means standing up for what you believe in. I believe standardized tests can be one assessment of student performance, but I do not believe in the stakes we have attached to these tests. Education must be about preparing students for life beyond the classroom. After spending five years as an ESL teacher in Asia, what I’ve witnessed is what I would expect. Extreme rote memorization and test preparation has produced a lot of students with phenomenal abilities for taking tests, but that is about all. As a principal, I will make my feelings towards standardized tests clear. I will ask my teachers to do a good job preparing their class for tests but to not lose sight on the greater purpose of education. I will do my best to support my teachers while taking as much of the standardized test burden off their shoulders.
Philosophy Point 3: Strengthening Teacher Capacity
As educational leaders everything we do must be purposeful with the intent to boost achievement. There is room to make mistakes along the way, but it is crucial that we learn from our errors to build more efficient schools. One way I can build capacity as a leader is to adopt Charlotte Danielson’s framework for teaching. With this framework, administrators can end blind assessments and make the process more purposeful. Two valuable steps often overlooked in the teacher evaluation process are the pre and post teacher interview. The principal should take about thirty minutes to sit down with the teacher before and after their class is assessed. Here are some sample questions the principal could ask before the interview:
- To which part of your curriculum does this lesson relate?
- How does this learning “fit” in the sequence of learning for this class?
- Briefly describe the students in this class, including those with special needs.
Here are some sample questions the principal could ask after the interview:
- In general, how successful was the lesson? Did the students learn what you intended for them to learn? How do you know?
- If you were able to bring samples of student work, what do those samples reveal about those students’ levels of engagement and understanding?
- Comment on your classroom procedures, student conduct, and your use of physical space. To what extent did these contribute to student learning? (Danielson, 2007).
When principals take time to share the framework process with teachers, the teacher better understands how she or he will be assessed. Moreover, this is one way for the principal to show support for building learning communities when teacher assessments are done in a non-threatening way.
Philosophy Point 4: Building Efficacious Environments
As a leader I will work to develop efficacy beyond school walls and into the greater community. Efficacy is important because many of our lowest performing schools are set up for failure before the day even begins. The privatization movement continues to falsely claim that our public education system is a failure; meanwhile, we continue to underfund schools and ignore the implications poverty has on a student’s chances for success. We need to believe in our schools, and we need to believe that, “it takes a whole village to raise a child.” I argue that the criticisms many make against public education are pointless and do no good. I believe this because they destroy academic optimism while also failing to offer any real solutions. The focus is always on the problem, and not how collectively we can make it better. For instance, I don’t buy a new house when I have a leaky pipe. I just fix the pipe. I feel like abandoning public education is like buying that new house when we could just fix the pipe. The first step in turning a school around and creating a culture of academic emphasis is developing faculty trust (Hoy & Hoy, 2009). Again, one way we might develop trust is by adopting Danielson’s framework. Once trust is developed, local stakeholders can begin to develop the collective efficacy needed to innovate and succeed.
Philosophy Point 5: Collaboration and Education
Learning communities are built through collaboration, and without collaborative efforts, innovation will stall. As a future leader in education I will build a culture of trust that welcomes innovation and demonstrates purposefulness in what we do as a school. I will work to make schools transparent while also preserving the professionalism of my teachers. I myself will be visible to my staff and the greater community because I believe the principal must be accessible. I will try to always answer questions openly and honestly. Also, to demonstrate that the entire community is a shareholder in public schools, I will look to parents, and other leaders, for help when possible. I will work to make school spaces available to the elderly, families, or local organizations. I believe some adults think of schools as I remember the dentist office. They recall negative experiences of their own and therefore still avoid or have bad attitudes towards school later on in life. Collaboration is important, and if done successfully then it will also help to build efficacy in our schools. Like the saying goes, I too believe it takes a community to raise our children.
Thank you again for taking the time to listen to the voice of a future administrator. I believe my leadership abilities in education exceed my web design abilities in information technology, or at least I like to think so. If you enjoyed this blog post, then please subscribe or read earlier posts.
Danielson, C. (2007). Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision & Curriculum Development.
Hall, G.E. & Hord, S.M. (2011). Implementing change: Patterns, principles, & potholes (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Kegan, R. & Lahey, L.L. (2009). Immunity to change: How to overcome it and unlock the potential in yourself and your organization. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School.
Pink, D. H. ( 2006). A whole new mind: Why right-brainers will rule the future. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
Woolfolk Hoy, A. & Hoy, W. (2009). Instructional Leadership: A Research-Based Guide to Learning in Schools (Third Edition). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
Zhao, Y. (2009). Catching up or leading the way? American education in the age of globalization. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.