Guest blog by Jeffrey Benson.
As the decades that I have worked in schools begin to pile up, I have come to call myself an educational elder—someone trying to synthesize and dispense whatever wisdom I have gleaned through the years; it’s what elders have done in traditional communities all over the world. Most of my work is focused on making schools exquisitely respectful organizations, where our ideals of democratic inclusion and robust education for every child move an inch or two closer to reality, even for the most challenging students.
Along the way I’ve been hired to help school systems hold more effective IEP meetings, and to help staff work better as a team, and to problem-solve for marginalized students, and to increase the use of authentic assessments, and to shape the study of literature for developing social skills—it’s all the same pie, the same Teachers21 notion of building reflective learning cultures that improve steadily through effort and teamwork. Wherever I gain entry, the fractal of exquisite respect and learning theory has a chance to crystalize.
Unfortunately, even when teachers and administrators give me high marks for my efforts, I find that improvements I may have helped to bring about are rarely full-bodied and lasting. Although my workshops, presentations, and coaching provide schools with a common language, inspiration, and skills, these are too often adopted piecemeal and at random –there’s not a reliable approach to implementing change. Everyone knows you have to do more than bring aboard an educational elder—but most schools don’t consistently know what else to do. I wrote Ten Steps To Managing Change in Schools (ASCD 2015) to provide a predictable template for improving a school. It’s a model that can be adapted to almost all program initiatives, so school leadership doesn’t have to exert time and energy to reinvent the wheel with every new improvement campaign.
One of the lessons all elders bring with us is that reality is never as predictable as we might think. A mentor of mine warned me: “Be nimble in your leadership.” I like this new book and I know it needs to be adapted, to be used as a touchstone, not as a millstone. Change is a process, not an event; it’s never completely “done.” I am hoping that the tools and concepts in the book allow all of us who strive to make schools better find our efforts connected to a larger understanding of school improvement.
July 17th, 2015 at the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents conference, Mashpee MA:
ESE Commissioner Mitchell Chester, MASS Executive Director Tom Scott, Fitchburg Superintendent and MASS President Andre Ravenelle, William James College Professor Nadya Reilly and Teachers21 President John D'Auria participated on a panel to discuss the importance of addressing Social-Emotional Learning in schools.
SEL has gained recognition over the last few months as an essential factor in student learning, culminating in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Department of Early Education and Care adding Social-Emotional Learning standards to their standards for educators.
"Superintendents are starting to pay much closer attention to the importance of social and emotional learning" says John D'Auria. "If school leaders model respect for the adults and students in their building, commit to a no shame approach, and respond to wrong sounding ideas with curiosity they can create the kind of safe, supportive environment that promotes learning and continuous improvement for all."
Legislators are also paying more attention to this issue, in part because of the Social-Emotional Alliance for Massachusetts, SEL4Mass.org. In the state budget passed last week there is a $500,000 line item for Safe and Supportive Schools, including $400,000 in grants for districts to develop, implement and evaluate plans to address SEL.
Teachers21 has been helping districts improve on school culture and leadership throughout the Commonwealth and is thrilled to see that the importance of these issues to learning and achievement are being recognized.
Teachers21 is honored and excited to work with Kentucky educators to lead a five-month, statewide initiative: the Activating Teacher Leadership Institute (ATLI). Developed by Teachers21 in partnership with the Kentucky’s Network to Transform Teaching (NT3), this initiative is aimed at implementing teacher leadership models on a systems (school or district) level. This ambitious initiative is supported by a team of Kentucky-based regional coaches representing organizations including the Kentucky Department of Education, the Fund for Transforming Education, Hope Street Group, and the Collaborative for Teaching and Learning.
For the launch of this work, school or district-based teams of 3-5 educators (administrators and teachers) gathered in Lexington, KY in June to learn with Dr. Jill Berg and Dr. John D’Auria. Participants from a diverse group of schools and counties across Kentucky focused on how to strengthen school and district leaders’ abilities to identify, bolster and tap the leadership potential of their teachers and to understand how to support and align this leadership influence with school and district goals. Each team was charged with examining school data and identifying a learning gap that they wanted to address through teacher leadership. Each team will craft a specialized teacher leadership role or refine an existing one that will be focused on assisting educators to shift their practice in order to better meet the identified student learning gap. This project’s first phase will continue over a five-month period with the support of trained regional coaches who will continue to be supported by Teachers21 to assist teams in shaping and supporting these new teacher leader roles. The teams will then reconvene in October to share progress, learning, and ideas for next steps. Learning derived from this important initiative will help advance the networked improvement community (NIC) of educators collaborating to maximize the impact of accomplished teachers through teacher leadership as part of the Network to Transform Teaching, a national network established by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the Carnegie Center for the Advancement of Teaching.
Social-emotional learning is a core part of effective education - at the heart of academic success as well as providing competencies that are central to students' mental health and well being and success in all areas of life. By focusing on the emotional supports that our students need, they are not only better prepared for life and careers (and therefore have less discipline and social problems in the future) but they also perform better academically.
The SEL Alliance for Massachusetts has made progress in getting standards included in the rubrics for educators but have a long way to go before this is seen as core to the mission of schools and educators.
- "Principals are being asked to develop new competencies largely centered around data, curriculum, pedagogy, and human capital development in order to meet the new expectations” and
- "Attrition due to resignations and early retirements, along with a shortage of qualified candidates for open principal positions, is leading toward a crisis of leadership in American education. Principals do not feel sufficiently prepared by their pre-service training to successfully meet the demands of school leadership.”
Here are their recommendations, many of which directly connect to some of our initiatives:
- Redesign school organizational charts and job descriptions.
- Develop instructional-leadership capacity around the principal.
- Focus principal training on coaching teachers.
- Build the capacity of central-office administrators to support principals.
- Provide regular opportunities for principals to gather around self-selected problems of practice.
- Develop partnerships with universities and nonprofits to recruit and train future principals.
- Develop and train principals on district-wide teaching and leadership frameworks.
- Provide technological supports that allow administrators to record and share instructional data.
Teachers21 recognizes that effective leadership is essential to improve educational outcomes and is committed to the development and sustainability of leadership at all levels:
- Our three leadership licensure and development programs meet the needs of high needs districts, high performing districts and those interested in district leadership
- We offer programs to mentor and support newly appointed principals (first 3 years) and assistant principals that include professional development and coaching
- Working with school and district leadership teams, we help focus and refine their work, especially in the realm of instructional leadership resulting in professional growth for all educators
- Our Teacher Leadership programs cultivate the skills and competencies teachers need in order to be effective as leaders in their building, and provide school leaders with the tools and strategies they need to maximize the impact of their teacher leadership resources.
Leadership is increasingly recognized as an important factor in moving schools forward, yet we have been relatively random in how we prepare and support them. Four obstacles often block or diminish their effectiveness. Avoiding or overcoming each of these requires an underlying set of skills and knowledge that we believe can be learned and practiced to improve leaders’ impact.
Read the full article by John D'Auria, President of Teachers21 as published in Kappan Magazine, February 2015.