Leading To Learn
I am sumarizing the Center for the Study of Teaching and Policy Leading for Learning framework and its related Sourcebook to assess what Alameda can do to accomplish "Student Success -Whatever It Takes" in the AUSD Strategic Plan for 2003-2008.
Each action area is broken down into sections:
Acting Strategically and Sharing Leadership
Leading for learning strategically involving devising courses of action that use existing policies, support activities, management structures and leadership resources to create improved learning opportunities for students, teachers and the system.
To be “strategic”, leaders’ actions must first align with the focus on learning that leaders have established. Second, they are sensitive to the local context to the most critical learning issues that arise. Third, they exploit opportunities that present an opening for change and afford the possibility of maximum leverage over the situation.
Strategic action by this definition implies a sharing of leadership among different kinds of staff. Therefore, the definition of a leader changes to someone who takes on the leadership responsibility, (some in formal positions of authority, some not) to address related aspects of a commonly held learning improvement agenda. For addition discussion about the role a "leader", see this Rugter's Study Leaders in Education.
Finally, strategic, distributed action is most likely to influence learning itself when it stimulates and supports activities that have a direct relationship with learning and teaching. A full stream of activities is referred to as a “pathway to learning”. There are four pathways:
Process and challenges
To fashion strategies for exerting specific influence on student, professional or system learning raises questions for leaders regarding to where to start, who exercises initiative and how initiative is shared between schools and district.
Strategic Plan Review
The entire strategic plan outlines courses of action to create improved learning opportunities. More specifically, the goals from the strategic plan can be matched to one of the four pathways mentioned above.
GOAL #1: Curricular Coherence & Effectve Practices
GOAL #4: Assessment (Formative, Incremental Testing for Diagnostic Purposes)
GOAL #5: At-Risk Students
GOAL #6: High School Graduation
GOAL #7: Limited English Proficient Students
GOAL #8: Early Child Education
GOAL #9: Student Involvement and Engagement
GOAL #11: Vocational,Career, and Adult Education
GOAL #10: Safe Schools
GOAL AREA #12: Communications and Community Engagement
GOAL #2: Staff Development
GOAL #3: Staff Recruitment, Assignment and Retention
Base on extensive research, teacher expectations play a sigificant role in student achievement outcomes.
In Spring, 2006, the new superintendent was introduced to the ExCEL program used by Hesperia Unified School District. This program uses early assessment and intensive intervention to achive significant learning improvements in all populations.
The Principal Connection / Picking Our Battles
As principal of an elementary school, I was determined to enforce the long-standing rule of “no gum chewing.” The faculty had clearly spelled out consequences for violating this honored regulation and we consistently enforced them. The second offense incurred an additional penalty, and on the third we called the parents. We simply did not tolerate gum chewing.
We maintained careful records of chewers and spelled out the evils of gum. When we found wads stuck to the undersides of desks and obstructing the drains of drinking fountains, we ratcheted up our pursuit of offenders. But our efforts were of no avail. Defeated, we regrouped to analyze the point of it all. After collective reflection, we concluded that our many hours spent as chewing-gum police had little purpose other than to demonstrate who was in charge.
As we remembered what was truly central to our work, the rationale for the chewing-gum rule faded. We began to pick our battles more wisely, judging their importance by their effect on learning. If an atmosphere of learning is to prevail, rules must be clearly understood, consistently promulgated, and justly implemented. After much thought, the faculty chose to focus on five rules outlining a code of behavior in harmony with our work as educators, not prison guards. We posted these rules, simple but reflective of our deepest beliefs, in every classroom:
This list was narrowed through good-faith debate about wording, number of rules needed, and what observing these rules would look like in practice. This conversation led to rich dialogue about what teachers really cared about for students. Some teachers were less comfortable than others with the simplicity of the rules, but few disagreed with their broad intent. Everyone appreciated the consistency. Staff members found it easier to address the behavior of students from other teachers' classrooms. The mentality of “your kids/my kids” morphed into one of “our kids.”
Something more significant happened as teachers spent less time deciding on rules and complex consequences: The more seriously we attended to the matter of successful student engagement in learning, the less we needed to address rule-breaking and consequences. When students' daily experiences in the classroom were positive and successful, misbehavior became less of an issue.
An unintended side benefit to clarifying guidelines for respectful student behavior was our exploration of how these guidelines applied equally to us as adults. For example, asking students to respect differences called on staff members, also, to actively understand opinions other than our own—an extraordinarily difficult commitment. Requiring students to finish classwork obligated teachers to plan lessons and assessments more carefully. Making reading a required behavior for students prompted us to form a weekly faculty book group. We realized that discipline went far beyond the student world.
Some kids, of course, challenged us at every turn. At times we still called parents, reprimanded inappropriate behavior, and suspended students from class. Neither we nor the students focused on these exceptions, however. The contest of who would “win” died a slow but welcome death.
I invite readers to examine their own chewing-gum battles. What topics dominate conversations and official communication in your school? Do they focus on rule-making and enforcing, or on kids and learning? If your school culture spotlights student conformity more brightly than the joy and importance of learning, it may be time to dramatically refocus that spotlight.
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