Saturday, August 4, 2012

What OHS is Doing Right in Teacher Leadership

"We have the absolute best teachers anywhere.  That is what makes our school great and we should never forget it."

As leaders we are used to hearing about what we are doing wrong. It is human nature to be more forthcoming with our complaints than our compliments. Recently another Iowa school district decided to waive all school fees for the upcoming year. When the local news reported on it, someone complained about what the school was doing!  Sometimes you just can't win in this old world.  :-)

So it is nice to once in a while be reminded of what you are doing right.  Yesterday a team from each of our district's buildings attended the Iowa Teacher and Principal Leadership Symposium in Des Moines. The symposium was put together by the Governor and featured a rich discussion of the need to empower teachers to be leaders in their buildings and ways in which some districts are doing so.

The research on the power of, and need for, strong teacher leadership in developing and sustaining a school culture, designing and leading professional development, and sharing in the authority and responsibility for leading schools forward is strong.  Research shows the most motivating things for employees are to feel their work is appreciated and to feel like they have a say in the direction of their organization.

As I sat with educators from around the state (around 700 in all) I reflected on how our school is doing in this area. I am very proud to say we have taken some significant steps to empower teachers and put them in positions to lead.

Among our most significant successes has been a refocusing of our Building Leadership Team, or BLT.  BLT's are common in schools but what they actually do varies widely. Often times BLT's become nothing more than principal advisory committees signing off on the top down directives coming from the lone administrator. Some spend the majority of their time discussing management issues such as when the next assembly should be or whether we should allow pop in classrooms. While decisions like these certainly need to be made, they are not exactly the kind of vital professional leadership the research shows we need from teachers.

Last spring we began a process of planning and visioning for what we saw as the changing role of our leadership team.  Through a series of important discussions both as a leadership team and with the larger faculty, we are now on a course of shared leadership that will move our professional development, our teachers, our culture, and our entire school, forward.   Our BLT is doing some amazing things but the best part of all is they are only one piece of our teacher leadership puzzle.  We are blessed with an outstanding group of teachers who are not only content experts but are also dedicated to finding, developing, and employing the best instructional strategies and most importantly, working as colleagues to improve the practice of every teacher.   I have said it before but it bears repeating - we have the absolute best teachers anywhere. That is what makes our school great and we should never forget it.

Last year we took steps to individualize our professional development and will be furthering that effort this year. The days of large group "sit-and-get" style in service our over. We are on a journey from "just in case" to "just in time" learning. This means we target learning based on needs and personalize it so each teacher can see a measurable change and improvement in their classroom as a result of implementing what they are learning.

We certainly have plenty more to do. We are closer to the beginning of this journey than the end (if there even is a real end at all), but it gives us a feeling of confirmation to know that we are headed in the right direction for our staff and students.  There will be many new ideas coming from the state in the coming months and years. Changing roles for teachers with multiple career paths including mentor and master teachers, instructional coaches, and changing the way we do professional development are just a few of the big ideas we will see moving throughout our state.  We at Okoboji High School are excited for the future. We have the right people in the right positions and we are working to empower them with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities to lead our school forward. It is sure to be an extremely important and rewarding journey for our entire school.

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