Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Instruction, Mistakes, and Balance

Part 4 of 4

Here's the thrilling final installation of leadership behaviors for the Principal.

10. If you're not improving instruction, you're not doing anything.
The rubber meets the road in our schools at the classroom door. Nearly every initiative to improve schools must have an impact on instruction. One of the pillars of breakthrough performance mentioned in Fullan, et. al's book, Breakthrough, is the need for precision. This refers to precision in assessing the academic need through formative tools and precision in applying specific instruction to meet that need. Teachers need plenty of support to develop the expertise to become such precise instructors. The Principal needs to become an expert in instruction. The move toward instructional leadership the past decade supports my assertion. If you're spending too much time helping plan the Spring Carnival and fighting over minor expenditures with your School Site Council, you are wasting time that can be better spent on the classroom. Of course, if you are far from an expert in instruction, the next best thing is to find a resource teacher who shares your philosophy of leadership and has the expertise to coach teachers to higher performance. I don't believe our schools will reach the lofty goals we are setting without disrupting (in a good way) the work of classroom teachers to implement the many known best practices that often go unimplemented. See The Gift of Bleak Research (*Education Week registration required) for more evidence of the need for improved instruction.

11. You blow it sometimes, so deal with it.
We're only human and sometimes, we are just plain wrong. The best solution is to own up, make amends if possible, and move on. Don't let your pride force you to maintain a wrong-headed path because you don't want to go before the group and fess up.

12. A Balanced Diet will keep everyone fit and frisky.
Balance and moderation are critical elements in all of life for healthy living. A school is no different. The Principal needs to balance a loose/tight leadership style. There are certain things that need to be required and others that need to be left to teachers' choice. I try and err on the side of giving teachers more freedom than restrictions as that is the environment that I work best in myself. For example, we have not settled on any one curriculum for language arts and literacy. My mantra has always been "Show me your results" and I don't care how you get there. We have avoided prescriptive approaches to literacy, which I believe honors the teachers professionalism, while making clear the expectation that we need to learn from teachers on our staff or elsewhere who are getting better results. Another resource that has impacted my thinking on this is Joy at Work by Dennis Bakke.

There are many ways to maintain balance. While it's important to push forward for improvement and initiate new programs, the leader needs to know when the plates are truly full and pull back. That can be just as effective as pushing forward. This goes back to the need to trust one's intuition and know the culture of the school well.

Well, there you have it. Those are my thoughts during a relaxing summer hiatus on the most important leadership behaviors of school principals. I'm sure there are many more things of importance, but these have certainly been the most critical in my training and experience and I welcome dialogue form colleagues on these areas or others that they feel deserve attention.


Junie B. said...

The Gift of Bleak Research really supports your push for collaborative teams and observing good teaching to improve instruction. I hope those of us who have been a bit resistant in the past to step forward and share what's working will join you more quickly in 07-08 as we work towards improving instruction in all classrooms.

I appreciate the balanced diet approach. It has been great to try new programs in addition to the district-adopted materials. I think this allows us to meet the needs of all our learners in unique and creative ways.

danw said...

Junie B,

I'm renewing a personal commitment to give more of my time to the good and great teachers at our school to primarily help them understand what they are doing that is making them effective, then secondarily, sharing their good strategies with others.