That differential use of time allows teachers to continually get better at what they're doing. We need to restructure schools to be able to do that. LH: What you're saying, in a sense, is that a collaborative learning environment is so important that time needs to be carved out to focus on building that work.
LDH: That's right - and being sure that whenever somebody is doing something right, it's getting shared, and whenever somebody has a problem, they have people to go to to help them solve their problem. They find that there's much greater gain in student achievement in a school when people work collaboratively in teams and when teams of teachers stay together over a period of time and build their collective know ledge and collective capacity. The whole can be greater than the sum of the parts.
That's one of the major jobs of good leadership. LGH: I think so for many reasons. One is so that [they] know what to expect.
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I often use the metaphor of the conductor of the orchestra. We watch the conductor, we're in the audience and we say, "I could do that. Piece of cake. It includes instructional leadership and the development of learning opportunities for kids and teachers. It includes change management, moving an organization from where it is to where it needs to be.
It includes outreach with various publics and communities that maintain support for the school - the school board, the parent community, others in the community who are resources to the work of the school It's important to understand those things, both to be able to expect and support them, and to also provide good feedback and evaluation. LH: What advice would you give teachers to become part of the process of making their schools better places?
LDH: Obviously everyone works in their own vineyard, in their own classroom. Beyond that, it's important for teachers to learn from the beginning of their careers - and throughout their careers - how to be good collaborators and community members, how to reach out to others both to offer to share ideas and thoughts, and to ask and learn from others , how to propose ways that collaboration may be able to take root, to sometimes reach out to the principal and say, "Can I help with this? Is there a way that I can facilitate some of this work getting done or enable you to be able to facilitate it?
And in fact, sometimes school leaders are alone and isolated and may not even realize that they can get help from the faculty to move an agenda forward. LDH: Absolutely.
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There actually is a lot to learn about how to be a good collaborator, how to manage differences of opinion, how to talk to each other in ways that will be productive and then get to a place where the conversations can be better and richer. In our efforts to develop the profession, we have to make sure that kind of learning is available to everyone. LH: Let's talk about some of the features that distinguish high-performing schools from low-performing schools.
LDH: One of the features that we've talked about is lots of collaboration around good practice. That's built on a strong foundation of trust. Some really important research [has] looked at the relational elements of effective schools. It's not just focusing on data about the test scores and so on.
It's also building trust between and among the professionals, seeing teachers as respected professionals, that is, people not to be mandated to or barked at but as colleagues who have expertise to be orchestrated and shared - and as professionals who want to continue to grow. Finding ways for the perspectives of teachers and other members of the school community to be shared - as a basis for problem solving, as a basis for school improvement planning - is really important.
In highly successful environments, efforts have been made to make it possible for teachers to be successful. That means making sure that they have the instructional resources they need - textbooks and other tools of learning computers, good curriculum. For example, we know that when a teacher can either loop with the same students or stay in the same or similar grade level for a period of time, they become more skilled than if you say, "Oh, this year you're teaching kindergarten and next year you're going to teach fifth grade, and then I'm going to put you in the fourth and then maybe the seventh.
We know that from research. Respecting the opportunities for teachers to be efficacious in their teaching by giving them the opportunities, the tools and the relationship time with students to be able to be successful [is very important]. That sometimes means reorganizing the school organization so that it supports the work in a more productive way. Looking back over 23 years as a high school English teacher in Florida, she remembers him as particularly demoralizing.
Students told me the first time they ever saw him was when he handed them their diplomas at graduation.
The turnover rate for teachers was very high. Luckily for Bonti, this principal was not the only one she has encountered over the years. Indeed, other school principals - the kinds who instinctively champion instruction over paperwork - have been a source of inspiration for her. She has felt their efforts directly as a teacher, first in Pasco County, Fla. And she has felt their work indirectly through a recent assignment that has sent her into about half the schools in Hillborough County, which, with almost , students, ranks among the country's 10 largest districts.
Seeing the five practices at work The five practices associated with effective leadership are on full display at these schools, in Bonti's experience. Take, for example, the first practice, knowing how to implant the notion that all students can learn and achieve.
The students get the message. Bonti has also seen how a principal can create a learning-friendly atmosphere that breeds enthusiasm among teachers and students. He makes sure breakfast is available. He even organizes an FCAT pep rally. She has also experienced firsthand how effective principals cultivate leadership in others. Bonti recalls being recruited to organize a Parents Night at the school where she taught most recently, Freedom High School. She also spent one summer working with middle school English teachers to help ensure that middle-school lessons flowed well into the senior high school courses.
In addition, Bonti has seen how a skillful principal can use data to bring teachers into efforts to improve schools.
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After one statewide "Florida Writes! The teachers determined that students were reluctant to take a strong stand on an issue - a requirement for making a credible argument - so the changes they instituted included providing more examples of strong persuasive essays in the lesson plans.
Bonti felt the principal had managed to balance leadership with a bow to the faculty's expertise. He didn't. So, he depended on us for the answer," she said. But he didn't stop there. He took the finding to other departments, so they knew to incorporate the results in their writing assignments. The power to improve instruction: spur to a career move? Finally, there is the effective leader's fierce focus on improving instruction.
That was Bonti's inspiration for taking on a three-year assignment as a full-time "peer evaluator" in the district's recently introduced teacher evaluation program. As part of the program, every teacher is observed at least three times a year by the school principal and a peer evaluator. Then, within one to three days, the teachers receive their assessments, with praise for their strengths and steps for overcoming weaknesses.
That means principals have to be current on academic research. It means they need to be skillful at delegating some of their old management duties to make time for their instructional tasks. And it means they spend much of their time in classrooms, not in the seclusion of their offices. Bonti finds the value in the new ways both self-evident and inspiring.
That's why, when her gig as a peer evaluator ends, she is considering pursuing a new goal: becoming a principal herself. The Knowledge Center at www.
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