|2011-02-21||Steve Gardiner||Successful Practices Network Leadership Academy (Part III)|
One of the advantages of having a team of six educators attend a conference is that each one sees and hears the speakers and ideas differently. Each perspective, in turn, adds more to the collective information that comes back to the school.
The topics and speakers in San Diego gave us plenty to think about, discuss, and share. One concept that proved popular was the listing of the Eight Components of Excellence, featured last week in Part II of this series.
Special education teacher Hope Wilson said her strongest reactions to the conference centered on two components. She believes having a clear vision for the school is important, because without it, “none of the other components can take place in a productive manner. The staff and students at Senior High must know they are genuinely respected and cared about. Our vision, mission, and goals must include a strong sense of purpose that maintains a constant focus on student learning and achievement.”
Hope also believes the fourth component, clarifying student learning expectations, is critical in a successful school. She explained, “Through academic rigor, we need to have students actively participating in authentic and meaningful lessons where they will understand the relevance of what they are learning and the applicability to their lives and futures. Through relevant and personalized instruction and assessment, students will have a sense of ownership of their education and will be able to reflect on what they have learned.”
Jeff Carroll, health enhancement teacher, liked the idea of clarifying vision, goals, and expectations, as well. Having been at Senior High for 28 years, Jeff has seen changes in the school. Many have been positive, but one that concerns him is a change in the culture which he described as “frayed at the edges.” He would like to see the school pull tighter together and build on what has long been a core value—putting people first and taking care of their concerns and needs. He noted that some teachers are not “connected to the greater picture” and he said developing a clearer picture of where the school is going would help.
In San Diego, Dr. Robert Brooks described the “charismatic adult,” the teacher or coach who becomes a strong model for student growth. Jeff said teachers could also become charismatic friends for other teachers, making sure everyone has a place to go to sound out ideas and have someone they can count on. He said, “The better the staff gets, the better the kids get.”
Art teacher Nancy Story went to the conference unsure of where SPN was taking us. She had spent time working as a grant coordinator with the Smaller Learning Communities and didn't want to lose what had been gained through that program. She quickly realized that the two programs were not exclusive, but shared much of the same research. “SLC encouraged collaboration among all of the players in education; I found out that SPN does, too. Mutual engagement is essential for student/school success. School improvement is a process,” she commented.
Kevin Brook was impressed with how much emphasis was placed on student engagement. As a school counselor, Brook said one phrase from the workshop really stayed with him. "Different first, then better." He said, "If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will not produce anthing original. We have to be innovative and put fear on the shelf. So what if we get it wrong the first time."
Having attended several SPN conferences over the past three years, Principal Dennis Holmes was already convinced that the Rigor/Relevance Framework, Learning Criteria, and Components of School Excellence were right for Senior High. He needed some support, some verification, that what he understood was correct. For him, the highlight of the conferences came after “hearing a couple of the early sectionals and the understanding level of the team simply skyrocketed. This was a huge relief for me, because I see things in our vision that I try to explain in detail, but I'm not well suited for that. My detail is usually in paperwork, finances, and deadlines with responsibilities.”
In trying to apply the information from the conference at home, Dennis said having the team in San Diego “helps me help Senior High. I also believe when things come from the teacher leadership level, they are more easily, readily received.”