This year, as I begin to understand and implement the notion of Instructional Leadership into my practice the saying, “Just because I said it, doesn’t mean they learned it.” seems to becoming more and more meaningful. I find that with my staff, I am a great teller. I tell people all sorts of things everyday. However, in order to truly IMPROVE, and make noticeable gains with SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT, teacher practice has to shift. Teachers have to learn and grow; if they need to learn, one of my main roles is to teach them, not just tell them.
Image via Wikipedia
In study after study, the evidence is clear. Dr. Rick DuFour could not say it in more simple terms:
“Two different comprehensive syntheses of research on the factors impacting student learning have come to the same conclusion: the most important variable in the achievement of students is the quality of instruction they receive on a daily basis (Marzano, 2003; Hattie, 2009). To ensure students learn at higher levels, simply improve teaching.”
Simply improve teaching sounds simple enough. The two questions I am currently pondering are, “What is my role in improving teacher practice?; and, “How do I improve teacher practice?”
What is My Role in Improving Teacher Practice
Short and sweet, this IS my role. If I am about being a principal who makes the school the best school I can, who makes it a place where all children learn everyday, and who is determined and focussed on school improvement, then improving teaching practice gets down to the heart of the matter. I could focus on the by-product of ineffective teaching practice such as low test scores, high suspension rates, unhappy students, unhappy parents etc, but this would not solve the base problem. I am 100% convinced that strong, effective teachers utilizing strong, effective teaching practices all the time, everyday result in steady school improvement. Steady school improvement results in a reduction of under performing students, a reduction in acts of violence and opposition, and a reduction in unhappy parents and students. So now that I am convinced, how do I do this? How do I improve teacher practice?
How Do I Improve Teacher Practice?
Well, first of all, let me say I am working on figuring this out. I am by no means an expert in “how” but I have figured out a few things!
1. Weekly Professional Development (PD). With the increased use of our Staff Intranet/E-Bulletin Board, for the past 2 years we have been posting all item information, and announcements. This allows us to have very few items on our weekly staff meeting agenda thus freeing us up for PD time. We are currently running 30-45 minutes per week of teacher PD where all teachers are working together.
2. PD Design. Here is where I rely on Robert Marzano and The Art and Science of Teaching. For example: In past years, before report card writing started, we would have a staff meeting where I would review the expectations of report card writing, how to write comments, the rules for putting in certain marks etc. Then teachers would go off, on their own and write their report cards. When finished, they would turn them into the admin team for review. Often when teachers would turn their reports in they would say things like “I hope these are right.” This got me thinking…
Cover via Amazon
This year, our pre-report card writing was PD – it had lesson design! Teachers worked together in table groups to identify important information needed in report cards. They worked together to decide upon the order of this important information. Then I passed out my guide “How to Write Report Card Comments.” We compared what they had figured out and what I had figured out. Then we practiced writing some report card comments on actual students. Together we created a rubric so they could assess their own work and the work of their colleagues. They asked themselves, “Does this work meet the criteria we developed for the rubric?” The results of this work were amazing! Teachers interacted with new knowledge then applied their new knowledge. Learning success!!
3. Professional Learning Communities. Previously I wrote a post on PLC‘s Professional Learning Communities This post will give you some information on our PLC journey. The most exciting thing we are doing this year with PLC’s is our PLC observations. I believe that watching a person teach, then analyzing and debriefing observations, then setting goals for their own teacher practice will in and of itself result in improved teaching practice. I have plans to also add in The Walk-About to our PLC Observations.
4. Find and encourage PD outside of the school. Yeah for Webinars! What a great way to get information to people from their own laptops. My role is to be the scavenger and finder of great PD opportunities outside of the school either face to face or Webinar. My role is to also support teachers in managing time and in some cases finances to access quality PD.
5. Questions and Questioning. One of my main “need to-dos” this year is to ask more questions. When working with teachers, debriefing in meetings,or analyzing practice I find that asking questions designed to support teachers in synthesizing new information results in a whole different type of understanding. See Feedback vs Feedforward for more thoughts on this.
One of the most fortunate events that has occurred for me is that our Area Director also believes in Principal PD and Improving the Practice of Principals. This has led to some of the best PD I have been apart of in my career. Each month, a large group of Principals meets together to get smarter! With this, I am hoping to continue and develop my understandings of Effective Instructional Leadership. I am very interested in finding out how other Principals are working with their staff on the notions of “Simply Improve Teaching,”Just Because I Said It, Doesn’t Mean They Learned It,” and “Instructional Leadership.”