Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Making Shift Happen- HOW?

It's interesting how things sometimes appear at just the right moment. Grappling with feelings of frustration can be productive. It can prepare the soil of the mind for new seeds to take root and begin to grow. I have been struggling with what sometimes feels like a growing chasm, wondering how to bridge the gap. I am lucky to work in a supportive environment. I have like-mindedpeople to talk to, as well as people to challenge my ideas. When I take time to stop and look back, I see progress. But the road ahead sometimes appears riddled with obstacles and mountains to climb. My expectations, for myself and others, are high and time is of the essence.

I have moved into the role of instructional coach, but the organizational culture that exists doesn't naturally support this role. Not only do I have to learn how to fulfill the responsibilities, I have to figure out how to "sell my services" to those who might use them. I find that, as part of forging a new path, I am often working without a roadmap. So I adapt to what I think is needed or I do what people seem to want. I often find myself falling back into old, familiar roles.

Today, our head of school returned from a conference energized with new ideas about leadership and team-building. He talked excitedly about the need to transform culture. He stated the bold fact that we can't keep calling our team "21st century learning"- that it is, plain and simple, "learning." Changing school culture is complex; it can't be done by just one person, and will not happen in a quick, linear process. But it can and will happen we keep the vision at the forefront of our minds.

"Probably the most important--and most difficult--job of an instructional leader is to change the prevailing culture of a school...A school's culture is a complex pattern of norms, attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, values, ceremonies, traditions and myths that are deeply ingrained in the very core of the organization." - from "The Culture Builder" by Roland S. Barth

From that same article was this E.B. White quote:

"A person must have something to cling to. Without that we are as a pea vine sprawling of a trellis."

What I have been seeking-- something external to support the growth of our school and to use as a roadmap formyself--is a structure to cling to.

Some structures are part of the problem- those that are outdated or restrictive, that don't support the vision for a reflective and collaborative culture. It seems important to commit once you've decided on a particular approach so that the structure can become embedded. However, it's also important, in a reflective learning environment, to be free to adapt or abandon what seems not to be working. How do we know when the structure itself needs more time or when to jump ship and change directions? Finally, the structure can't be so difficult or time-consuming to implement that it becomes the focus of the work.

At this point, I am collecting ideas and tools. One thing I have found that I think holds great potential for our school is this rubric, "Evidence of Learning in the 21st Century Classroom,"which I think, once adapted, can be used as a tool for goal-setting and self-evaluation. Is this a viable structure? What can school leadership to to make this structure work? (One thing I have already done is to post the rubric on our faculty Ning and ask for input from everyone as far as re-writing/adapting to make relevant for our school).

Why the need for an external structure? I think the right structures or systems may serve the following goals:
-model and support
-define priorities
-make values and vision explicit
-data collection
-build a common vocabulary
What else? What am I missing?

Are tools structures?
Can tool implementation support growth? I think the answer to that is yes (sometimes and it depends on the tool and the way it is implemented). School wide implementation of Wordpress MU and Google Apps for Education has created an infrastructure that allows us to do many of the things we want to do.

Can changing structures shift culture?
I ask this because I wonder, not because I think I know. I'm curious. If we only have so much time and we spend that time doing certain things because we've always done them, can changing the way that time is used be part of the process of shift?
One example that comes to mind is the process of having teachers turn in lesson plans. This is a common structure that exists in many, many schools. How does this support the school's vision of learning? Is is a meaningful activity or a hoop to jump through? Would teachers still plan lessons if not for this requirement? What is the follow-up? Are teachers given meaningful feedback on the work? Are they offered alternative ways to reflect upon or share their lessons? I wonder how many principals engage, without much thought, in this process of collecting lesson plans simply because the structure is so embedded in the life of the school and the idea of what the job of principal or instructional leader includes. If we would like teachers to think critically about the things they do in the classroom, we have to model this by questioning how things are done and asking if there is a better way.

What structures do teachers use in their classrooms to support the growth of their students? Can those be modified or adapted for use in professional development settings? What structures do other schools use, and more importantly, what structures work well? What old and well-worn structures are choking educational reform and absolutely must be abolished?

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1 comment:

Constance Dixon said...

I really enjoyed this post. With me currently in EDM310 at the University of South Alabama I am having to do a lot of blogging myself. Part of this class is to actually learn how to write quality blogs as well as quality comments. I found your post quite useful and I visited the link you include for Silvia's blog. I was very impressed and plan to use it for reference in the future.
-Constance Dixon