Frank, my boss, likes to talk about three types of space in school - physical space, virtual space and teacher headspace. The first two only get used well when the third is open to good practice, seeing things differently and willing to re-imagine what could be.
I've been in leadership since 2003 but it has mainly been on what I think is the first rung - as a coordinator who had release time from my own classroom responsibilities to lead out in the area of learning technologies. Since July last year, I've been on the next rung as an Assistant Principal, and it is only now as I'm starting a new school year with this school and this group of colleagues that I'm really realising the difference it makes when you have different broader responsibilities without the responsibility of one specific group of students.
As a coordinator, it was easy to lead by example. "I've set this up in my classroom and it works this way." I had classroom credibility but was always short on time to do as much as is needed for the whole school big picture. Now I have the time and scope in my new experience but I have no classroom presence to draw on and to demonstrate with.
A quick example from Wednesday. I led a presentation on Inquiry Learning, knowing that at a large school just over a year old, there would be colleagues with a wide variety of experiences and perspectives on the topic. At Lockleys North, we had a huge focus on inquiry learning and I have a reasonable amount of experience with the process, planning and implementation of learning in this vein. I've had the privilege of high level training and PD - three sessions with Kath Murdoch, two times listening to both Mark Treadwell and John Hattie and been to Melbourne to spend three days with Jay McTighe. I've designed units of work with my former Upper Primary colleagues over the past four years and sat in on the planning of many others in that time. I have a sizeable digital resource library of articles, videos, powerpoints and templates. I've even been on the journey from back when I was teaching at Flagstaff Hill Primary in the nineties and getting into Resource Based Learning in a major way just as the internet was becoming a viable thing in South Australian schools. I dabbled and wrote webquests, then moved onto Problem Based Learning in my new role as a coordinator at Lockleys North when I started in 2003. So I've done heaps.
But now it is all in my head. I mean it was in my head before too but I could show Inquiry Learning as an extension of my own practice. As an AP, I'm the person spouting what the classroom teachers should be doing, becoming a quasi-consultant - talking the talk but the walk is back in the immediate past. I worry that I may become one of those people from the department who lose touch with what really happens in the classroom and a result command very little respect without ever really realising that their words are ignored at best.
I'm sure that if you are a school leader, you know what I'm talking about. So, I'm keen for any feedback here.
How did you make that transition from leading classroom practitioner to leadership?
How did you hang on that credibility that is vital for effective leadership?
I am not in a leadership role at either of my schools, but I will speak to what I respect in a great AP that I know. I’m not at her campus anymore, but she’s amazing.
Probably the best thing she did to keep instructional touch and credibility was how she approached professional development days. Now, I’m in the States, and I don’t know how your school year is done in Australia, but here we have days where an entire campus staff has time to work together without the students there. Do you have those? Anyway, she really approached the segments/seminars that she led as her classroom teaching time. She taught teachers, and she did it using tools and techniques that we could take back to and use in our own classrooms, with our own students. Even when her sessions were on something that should have been dull, she had us engaged in the process and the content. I never felt like she wasted our time, and always came away with some new idea that I wanted to try.
Thank you very much for your considered comment. Teachers always want to see the link between theory and practice and your suggestion about modeling that at every opportunity is a good one. Talking at my colleagues will only go so far.
Hi Graham. I totally understand your concerns and, knowing how you approached your classroom teaching, I can see that this will be a real dilemma for you. You will find ways to overcome this I’m sure and maybe the idea of treating your sessions with your staff as your classroom teaching is a good start.
Thanks for the encouragement Pam. Perhaps I’ll see you at the CEGSA AGM?
Amber’s comment is a great observation, and something more APs should be doing. What else did you find out Graham? Any more ideas to share on this topic?
School leadership have the hardest class in the school – the staffroom. Your teacher look doesn’t work on a colleague! They will challenge you hard and you have to be way more ‘sure of your stuff’ than you do with kids … no bluffing it here, no finishing it off for homework. The feedback is more immediate and more ‘harsh’ as well.
Get out there, get your hands dirty, show the teachers you still love learning and enjoy kids. Nothing worse that a school leader blah, blah, blahing on about engagement etc and then is mindnumbing in staff meetings.
TEACH. I did lots of classroom release for the first 6 months at my previous school. Taught in every room; saw what happened when the teacher wasn’t there. Great way to get a feel for the place. Also when I began the teachers gave me pages of planning and instructions …. after a couple of times it was a knod and “my planning is on my desk”. Trust and confidence in my abilities …. nice. Also showed I valued the teachers time out of the room enough to make sure it happened …. it was a priority for me too.
Thoughts off the top of my head ….. 🙂