Thursday, July 23, 2015

More Questions Than Answers...

I am a work in progress. I truly have more questions than I have answers. Things that I once so strongly believed in, in terms of educational practice I now question. I wrestle with the idea of homework, I wrestle with grading, I wrestle with promotion and our determination of what constitutes a year's worth of learning, I wonder about the ways in which we engage in learning, and the impact our physical spaces have on us. It really boils down to me having a lot of questions. It boils down to a curiosity that isn't easily satisfied. I'm thirsty for knowledge, or at least ways of knowing. There's a fire in my belly that I can't really seem to explain adequately. I think this is what learning is about at its core. It's that natural bent towards wonder, curiosity, knowing, understanding. 

More on Instructional Leadership

It is through instructional leadership and supervision that principals have the ability to influence the educational practices of teachers, and the learning environment of students. Thus, it is imperative for school building leaders to understand, and be equipped with various strategies to engage and reflect with teachers around instructional practices. Instructional leaders have the responsibility of guiding their faculties through critical analysis, and refinement of instructional design and delivery, with the ultimate goal of improving student learning outcomes. There are specific actions that building leaders can take that will help to drive professional growth and lead to an increased willingness amongst faculty to innovate, take risks and share. These actions include: being visible, actively listening and observing, facilitating dynamic and open discussions, providing support and guidance, empowering teacher leaders and supporting peer observation and mentoring initiatives along with formal observations and individual conferences. When instructional leaders facilitate, rather than direct, they empower other in the learning community to take leading roles and strengthen collaborative practices. The key to all of this however, lies in laying the appropriate foundation and creating a culture that embraces self-reflection, thoughtful and critical analysis, leading to professional learning and growth. 
Building trusting relationships amongst the stakeholders is critically important work. Getting to know teachers as individuals, as well as professionals, establishing rapport and demonstrating care and concern are essential. I’ve heard the following many times in relation to student learners, and have found it to be just as true of adult learners as well, “they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”  Instructional leaders must be present and take a genuine interest in the work and the learning of those around them. Instructional leaders are visible and spend as much of their time as possible in classrooms observing, learning and reflecting on what motivates their learning community. The goal for the instructional leader should be to complete a number of walkthrough observations with each teacher several times a year, and to provide timely formative feedback on what was observed during each of the walkthrough observations. In addition to frequent walkthrough observations being valuable to individual teachers, and improving instruction and learning in individual classrooms, frequent walkthroughs allow building leaders to gain an understanding of the instructional practices of the building as a whole, and this is an important frame of reference.
Beyond building relationships amongst themselves and their faculty, it is critical for instructional leaders to connect their faculty to one another and to colleagues outside their learning communities. Instructional leaders do this by fostering purposeful, and continuous collegial interactions within their school by establishing professional learning communities, implementing mentoring relationships, peer observation and coaching, and supporting these efforts through time, training and resources. Instructional leaders also encourage their staff members to connect beyond their building through the creation of professional learning networks. These actions can motivate and empower educators to take charge of their collective professional learning and growth. With these elements in place instructional leaders help to shape and build capacity within their organizations, with direct consequences for student learning and achievement.
Exceptional instructional leaders understand that leadership is larger than themselves; they recognize that one of their greatest responsibilities is to build upon and further develop the leadership qualities of others in the organization. When leaders take the time to invest in others, the result is trust, shared understanding, and ultimately an increase in the instructional leader’s sphere of influence. One way that instructional leaders can nurture teacher leadership is through the use of peer observation and coaching. Peer observation and coaching has been proven to increase collaboration, lead to positive curriculum changes, and improve student results. It is a great complement to clinical supervision, as it supports goal setting, extends conversations about teaching and learning beyond a single classroom teacher and the building leader, further promotes reflection and critical analysis, and refinement of practice. Further it encourages teachers to come together to solve common problems, acquire knowledge and expertise together and to celebrate one another’s successes.

The key to any model or system of instructional supervision lies in laying the foundation and creating a culture that embraces self-reflection, thoughtful, critical analysis, professional growth and learning. Beyond that, it is critical to connect teachers with a purpose by fostering purposeful and continuous collegial interactions and empowering them to take charge of their professional learning and growth. When instructional leaders do this they build capacity within their organizations, with direct consequences for student learning and achievement.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Where Do We Go From Here?

Road Less Taken - Flickr

In a blog post I wrote earlier this year,  I wrote about the many days that I have contemplated, wondered and worried about the direction of our nation. I also wrote about how competition, ranking and sorting seems to bring out the worst in us collectively as a nation.  My message is not a new one, and I believe it is one that is echoed in many other corners of our country. We must do better! 

In the past few weeks I have found myself with copious amounts of time to think, driving to Philly for ISTE, and then trips back and forth "home" to Ontario have given me the time and space to mull things over. What my mind is presently stuck on, is how to continue to innovate and improve, push thinking and challenge the status quo, in such a way as to have a meaningful impact on my own learning community, but the much broader learning community as well. I believe that casting a small pebble into a large body of water makes a ripple, and that if enough of us do this we can make a much larger ripple, but it seems to take so long to perceive noticeable change. Patience is not one of my stronger suits, I know this about myself. But in this case, I also happen to think that time is truly of the essence. My children, your children, our children need us to actively engage and participate in shaping a system of education that values the learners and the journey, more than it values individual data points.

This is where I see an opportunity for teacher leaders to play a pivotal role. It is our teacher leaders, individuals who in spite of a myriad of obstacles, and flying in the face of the opinion of many, affect positive and meaningful change each day. Educators that are willing to acknowledge their own shortcomings, and who look far and wide for ways to improve. Risk takers that are willing to make mistakes on their own learning journey. Educators that choose connection over isolation. Leaders that embrace curiosity and cultivate wonder. Teacher leaders - together we are  called to be the architects, innovators and creators. We are called upon to inspire, challenge and empower others. So how do we realistically make this a concerted effort?

  • Continue to push conventional thinking and wisdom in your schools and in your districts.
  • Attend conferences, edcamps and other public gatherings and share your insight, challenge others, and push thinking at these events to consider different perspectives.
  • Engage in discourse on social media, blog, join online communities.
  • Advocate in your community, and at the state and national level as well.
  • Help promote initiatives that are attempting to shift the focus.

These are just 5 steps that we can take, there are certainly more and I hope that you will add your thoughts to the comments below.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Thinking Through Instructional Leadership & Supervision

So I was tasked with composing my vision statement related to instructional leadership and supervision. If you follow me on Twitter you would have noticed a couple of tweets about writer's block and being on the struggle bus. I wasn't struggling because I lack the vision of what an instructional leader could be or should be, but I was very much struggling with how to make this complex idea clear and concise. Some of my initial thoughts around instructional leadership can be found in a previous post on the topic (see here), but for the purposes of this assignment I had to stretch myself to move beyond the roles of teacher leaders in instructional leadership, and look more at the specific role of the building leader. I'm pretty sure my final submission doesn't look much like a typical vision statement. Take a look and please provide feedback to stretch my thinking.

The Purpose of Supervision and Instructional Leadership:

Supervision and instructional leadership should lead educators towards reflection and action. As a result of the work of instructional leaders, educators should be inspired, challenged and empowered to reflect critically on their actions, clarify and make explicit their thinking, and share what they have learned with others.


  • Create a supportive environment. A building leader establishes a supportive environment in the ways that they handle formal and informal interactions, discussions related to instructional matters, and how loosely and tightly they manage procedures and policies. Placing emphasis on communication, mutual respect, tolerance, acceptance, commitment to sharing, courage, and risk taking are necessary to establishing an environment that will be conducive to professional and instructional growth.
  • Acknowledge the balance of power. To move beyond mere evaluation or oversight there must be a recognition of the current balance of power, and ways in which the hierarchy might be flattened in order for a more collaborative system to be put in place.

A Roadmap to Instructional Leadership and Supervision:

1. Connect
Be visible, be present and be connected. By doing these things you are better able to understand what motivates your learning community, analyze what is happening in terms of curriculum and instruction, and find ways to inspire, challenge and empower your faculty. Walk around, and talk with students and faculty. In business it is known as the Management By Wandering Around or Management By Walking About model. This model increases approachability and ultimately trust. By the very instance of you being there and being truly present, your faculty is more likely to share what is happening within their classrooms. As the leader you are more apt to find areas that are strengths, and weaknesses, in terms of curriculum and instruction, and opportunities to promote and empower the work that is happening in your building. As you spend more time interacting, and connecting with staff and students trust is eventually built. When you interact daily with a determined and genuine effort, there is heightened accountability on both sides.

2. Plan
Effective instructional leaders must understand the many facets of instruction, learning, motivation and engagement. They engage in self-reflection and professional learning alongside faculty, model expected behaviors, and are involved in instruction in very tangible ways. It is incumbent upon the instructional leader to encourage, empower and engage all school community members (faculty, students and families) to actively participate in the ongoing growth of the learning community.  In leading this important work, they are able to assist faculty in evaluating curriculum and instructional approaches, and collaborate in the framing and the aligning professional learning opportunities.
Much in the way a teachers are charged with empowering their students and differentiating instruction to meet individual needs, building leaders too are charged with empowering their faculties and sharing ownership for professional learning and growth.  Recognizing that each member of the learning community has different strengths, and different needs and approaching supervision and instructional leadership through that lens is critical. Working with faculty members to develop an action plan that best meets their learning needs, the needs of the students, while also attending to the goals of the larger learning community is a chief responsibility of an instructional leader.

3. Act
There are specific actions that building leaders can take that will help to drive professional growth in buildings, and lead to an increased willingness amongst faculty to innovate, take risks and share. These actions include: listening and observing more than talking or directing, facilitating dynamic and open discussions, providing support and guidance, empowering teacher leaders and supporting peer observation and mentoring initiatives along with formal observations and individual conferencing. When instructional leaders take the time to listen and observe and reflectively question they gain critical insights regarding not only instructional practice, and student learning, but the overall experience of a learner in their community. When instructional leaders facilitate, rather than direct, they empower others in the learning community to take leading roles and strengthen collaborative practices.

In just about every case, actions speak louder than words. Instructional leadership is no different, in every instance the words and deeds of the instructional leader must match. If we say we are instructional leaders, then our actions need to match. We must cultivate leaders and learners throughout our learning communities by inspiring, challenging and empowering them to do so.

Monday, July 6, 2015

ISTE Take 2: Connecting and Learning

In ISTE Take 1 I blogged about "The Bigger Picture" and how ISTE is more than just another edtech conference. In this post I'm trying to tease out a little more about what the experience is like. I think perhaps by the time I get to ISTE Take 3 I might be ready to dive into specific take aways from individual sessions or experiences. So here are a few things that have been percolating over the past few days...

  • The size of a conference matters. Clearly large conferences like ISTE have the ability to draw diverse participants from all over the world, and that is truly wonderful.  It allows us to engage with others with vast experiences, different skill sets and expertise around issues in education and the integration of technology in education.  For me, it was also an opportunity to finally meet face to face with colleagues that I have connected with and collaborated with online, an opportunity that may not have happened otherwise. At the same time, the sheer volume of people, exchange of ideas, and the pace can be overwhelming. Trying to balance learning as much as you possibly can in four days, with connecting with friends and colleagues, with taking time to reflect on what you've experienced is tricky. 

  • Personal learning matters. No two people will walk away from a given session, experience, and certainly an entire conference with the same learnings. What drives you may not be the same as what drives someone else. We are all different. Our learning journeys are different, our experiences are different, and what drives us is different too. What we learn is as much dependent on our personal frame of reference and experiences, as it is on a given presenter's message or expertise. It's one of the things that I love about reading the blogs and tweets of others; seeing how similar and how different our responses to a shared experience can be.

  • Connecting matters. We are relational beings. At our core we desire to be known by another. Taking the time to connect with others is important to us. While large conferences like ISTE pull many of us together, its sheer magnitude can make it difficult for us to connect in the ways we would like or the ways we find most meaningful.