Sunday, February 16, 2014

Week 23: Being a Student Driven Principal #SAVMP --scattered thoughts on a Sunday evening

This week Amber Teaman asked us to consider the challenges of keeping teachers and other adults in a teaching community focused on doing what is best for our students. Recently, we adopted a new schedule. The three prime directives of this schedule were that it serve the needs of students first, that the middle and upper school schedules align enough to allow for student (and therefore teacher) cross over, and that it increase time for extended projects and deeper learning. In other words, the schedule needed to serve students needs to take as wide a variety of courses as possible, to take the courses that best fit their readiness to learn -- 8th graders taking language and math courses in the high school program--, and that time for student exploration be hardwired into the day. The unintended but not unexpected consequences included less meeting time during the day for adult committees and fewer free periods for teachers.The daily period changes were accompanied by a switch from trimesters to semesters. Through the process I observed the correlation between an individual teacher's general unhappiness with the old schedule and now with the new schedule and the number of times sentences about the schedule would began with "I need in order to . . . " or "this doesn't work for me because . . . ."

I believe my colleagues are genuinely motivated to teach because they see themselves as serving their students. Those that don't have this approach generally don't last in today's climate in independent schools.  Naturally, we want to do and teach what we enjoy. If we aren't already knowledgeable we want to be learning something new that interests us. We want to work with students in ways that play to our individual strengths. And as a Principal/principle I want to align my faculties' strengths with the needs of my students and the tasks that need to be accomplished (clubs, sports, advising, academics, dorms, leadership roles, athletics) within the complexity of a school. Having said this, there are any number of things in a school that are good for our students, good for the school and not always good for a teacher. Perhaps, I am over focused on this prompt in job descriptions and the day to day work -- this is probably a reflection of where I am in the cycle of the year.

Let me try and step up to a thousand feet at least.

I intended to write about school change to benefit students and put their needs first. Maybe, I shouldn't have started with the schedule ! :) For the past year I have had the same chart over my desk that Amber placed at the top of her blog. As an administrator I have had to work hardest at avoiding both confusion and false starts. Either the vision isn't clearly articulated or in the end the action plan needs better delineation. Both run into the same problem in the end. Only a clearly articulated vision and a carefully planned set of action steps will overcome inertia and TTWADI. When presenting student centered initiatives, I have found it useful to remind us of where we have been and how the work we have already done has led us to this place -- to lean into the direction we are heading and remind us of why we are doing the work before us, no matter how challenging (or exhilarating!!). This helps with establishing the vision. That work always has our students at the core. I am reminded of a workshop led by Heidi Hayes Jacobs in which she had us imagine students sitting next to us as we mapped our curriculum and then she invited real students into the room. Lately, I have been adding students to faculty committees to remind us always that the decisions we make affect our students; why not invite their voices where appropriate (they are sure to share them inappropriately otherwise).