Tuesday, June 1, 2010
The Importance of Trust & Communication
It is no secret that there is a severe issue of professional trust and communication in our middle school, particularly between the administration and teachers. At our leadership meeting today, our principal proposed a plan for a new tedious and overwhelming logistically-heavy monitoring system that is just plain ineffective and excessive. In fact, this system undermines what we as teacher leaders have been trying to do -- and have been succeeding at -- for the past several years with our teams of teachers and students.
As she laid out her new monitoring plan, our principal continually shut others' opinions, insights, and ideas down, often not giving even the most respected members of our leadership team the courtesy to finish their own sentences. She could see that no one was supporting her idea, so rather than hear us out, she decided to shut us down. What resulted was intense anger, bitterness, and resentment on the part of everyone in the room against her, including the other two administrators.
Since the meeting happened to take place (for the first time) in my classroom, the principal stayed behind and wanted my honest take on things. I spoke my concerns to her and asked her to develop a clear, specific plan to move forward and address each of the legitimate concerns raised in the meeting. I asked her to seriously consider the student monitoring tools our teams and departments already have in place, which have been largely successful in the past three years, and how they can be refined and reworked.
By later in the evening, our principal had sent out an email to her leadership team about the "big picture" of all of this. Now do not get me wrong; I do find value in tracking EVERY student's progress, regardless of how basic or advanced they may have scored on a recent assessment. Reteaching, reassessing, and adapting the curriculum to best suit the needs of our individual students are ALL essential parts of good teaching and learning that I strive for every day in the classroom. Isn't it time our administration began to stop trying to micromanage our efforts and start legitimizing, praising, and validating what we do each and every day on the front lines???
Here is our principal's response. How would you choose to move forward with her? I welcome your thoughts and comments, as always.
I want to write you a follow up to today’s meeting. I know that this is the end of the year, there’s a lot to get done, and we are all under a great deal of pressure. I know that the ideas and hand-outs I shared were pretty overwhelming, and I really do apologize. These are not the kind of things that we normally begin in May and June, but neither can they can wait for the summer.
We have expressed frustration over time when there isn’t consistency, clarity, and communication about our processes and expectations. We recognize our need to focus on instruction and to design and implement lessons based on the needs of the students. We say that the goal of our SIP and of the school is that each student meets and exceeds the academic goals. If those aren’t just words, then it means we need to do exactly what we said today and what many folks already do: plan and deliver daily instruction based on the indicators and tweaked from one day to the next by assessing (e.g. exit card, Activote, et al) whether or not the kids “got it.” I know that most folks do a form of this already, sometimes in a visible, concrete manner but most often by “sensing” or “watching body language.” The problem is that the information is global, it doesn’t necessarily tell us how widespread the confusion is, and it lets kids easily get lost until some bigger assessment is given. When students don’t get key concepts, skills, or processes taught in one lesson then confusion is only compounded in subsequent lessons. In terms of the county Math and English data points, we are not consistent across the school about how we analyze and use the results. Moreover, these and other big assessments are far too infrequent to give teachers the kind of immediate, constant feedback needed to adjust lessons from day to day or week to week.
I ask you as leaders in the building to think about where we are as a school and what we need to do. We are uncertain about meeting AYP, we have significant achievement gaps on all measures between African American and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts, and we cannot do more. As a Leadership Team we have to work differently and smarter; we cannot work any harder. More importantly, we need to empower each teacher to own and know whether their students “get it” at the end of the lesson, to monitor this with great frequency, and adjust instruction in a timely manner to address the needs. When we expressed the need to have teachers “own” the data, this is precisely what it means. It means to assure that each teacher not only knows what is happening, but more importantly feels responsible to do whatever is needed to really make sure that each student meets and exceeds the goals.
Thanks. I invite your comments and feedback.