What ripple effect do you want to pass on to students and adults in your school building? Our impact as educational leaders can vary, but our core business as educators is to serve students by influencing substantive academic, socio-emotional, and civil improvement, at least one year, if not more, for each year of school.
Back in November, I wrote about some ways to profoundly impact student improvement and achievement as a leader. In February, I wrote about 3Cs — clarity, cohesion, and capacity — as a blueprint in steering a school district toward student improvement and achievement. Today I write about another set of 3Cs (and 1H) to elevate a process to cultivate a healthy climate so students and adults believe and can progress each school year.
The 3Cs — Clarity, Credibility, and Collaboration
Clarity. Adults, similar to students, want to know what is expected to succeed. Just as Teacher clarity can double the rate of learning and anchors all other instructional strategies, leader clarity fortifies the expected adult behaviors and practices that navigate the district mission.
To ensure one’s impact is significant, a leader’s message must be etched into teacher’s minds and hearts. One way leaders do so is by designing a lean and feasible strategic plan. For example, in my school district, we have a two-page plan. The plan states the goal — ensure a year’s growth or more — and thoroughly defines two instructional action steps constructed to attain the goal — teacher clarity and know thy impact.
Furthermore, the plan includes the necessary support structures. In our case, we hone teachers skills and advance staff’s thinking using the support vehicles of professional development, collaboration, and coaching (all strategically aligned to the instructional steps). The principals and I further reinforce the expectations and communicate progress (around implementing teacher clarity as measured through student clarity) by giving specific and measureable feedback to staff and students following classroom visitations.
Credibility. An equal force is the trust and credibility leaders develop with their staff and students. While this is not an exhaustive list, I have learned a leader can gain confidence of one’s team in several ways: by being consistent with his/her word, by being exceptionally knowledgeable, and by showing humility.
First, the goal in our school district has remained not just clear but stable throughout the school year. In other words, the goals do not shift or change during the year We are consistent.
Second, I and fellow principals in my school district constructed the district strategic plan based on current literature and empirical data. We abstracted John Hattie’s research, some of the most compelling research in our field, in concert with our student achievement levels. We continue to stay current with the literature, and monitor our students’ improvement and achievement in relation to the effectiveness of our instructional practices, grounded, first and foremost, in teacher clarity. We are knowledgeable.
Last, Pink (2012) writes in regard to building trust, “as the size of the groups increased, it required more sophisticated understandings and interactions with people.” (p.77). One way I often reveal my own vulnerability is to periodically step in and teach an elementary or high school class. When I instruct such a class, others can observe with the intention not so much to watch and learn as to witness my own struggle. I open each lesson articulating the learning intentions and success criteria, just as I expect from all staff in our school district. I close by revisiting the success criteria so the students and I can realize our accomplishments both individually and as a whole class. We show humility.
Collaborative spirit. The purpose for each collaborative conversation, formal or informal, is centered on student learning and instructional practice. The dialogue is staged in evidence: evidence in student progress caused by the degree of effectiveness in one’s instructional practice. “If we are going to produce better and more prepared students, school culture must become aligned in purpose and collective focus on student achievement” (Muhammad, 2009, p. 87). In other words, give teachers a voice, yet command the focus be on student learning and quality instructional practices.
I also show the importance of continuing my own growth (and my vulnerability) by actively participating in our bimonthly district collaborations. Remember the expectation is not perfection but substantial improvement. I bring my own data to the table for public display. While our data/student results reveal gaps to further address, the teachers and I also bring accomplishments around student improvement, worthy of celebrating and replicating.
Each collaborative conversation that centers around student academic success caused by our instructional practices is an opportunity to galvanize the district’s goals and mission. Such recognition elevates and connects the staff, with each other and with our organization’s vision: such progress ignites pride and excitement in the work, spurring continued confidence in our individual and collective abilities, student and staff, around causing and making substantial academic gains.
Every student and every adult enters the world innately “good.” Students deserve at least one go-to adult during their academic career. Educators and educational leaders also merit having at least one advocate/champion during their career in education. As Manny Scott preaches, “even on your worst day, you can still be a student’s (and colleague’s) best hope.” What does that mean and look like?
For my students, it meant I was a consistent figure in their lives. The students showed up every day. I, too, showed up every day! Some students revealed their innate goodness immediately and it was easy to appreciate them. Other students worked hard to conceal their innate goodness. I would joke with them, “don’t you worry, the day will come when the talents you are hiding will emerge and stay.” The students and I were each other’s advocates: advocate for learning, advocate for happiness (even if only in the moment), advocate for healthy interactions.
When I was a teacher, it meant my principal believed in me. When I was a skeptic of my skills to reach my students, she never faltered in word nor in nonverbal cues regarding her confidence in me. This included how she spoke about me in front of my students, colleagues and parents. While I am director of curriculum and instruction, it means my superintendent entrusts me to lead and facilitate the principals and teachers in the implementation of our district-wide strategic plan.
No industry has more on the line than education (Muhammad, 2009, p. 87). A district’s climate created by its people has far more influence on life and learning than the state department or federal government (Bamrick-Santoyo, 2013). While we want and need cooperation from the state and federal politicians, we cannot wait on legislation and policy. As briefly touched on in this blog by highlighting my school district takes action by utilizing the 3Cs and 1H. Daniel Pink (2012) reminds us that every human being is a salesperson (p. 16). Educators today sell and create an environment that is to “better” the life and situation of each and every student. So I ask myself and I ask each of my readers, as we enter the school building today, and each subsequent day, how are we shaping our students’ civility, well-being, and academic career?
Bamrick-Santoyo, P. B.-A. (2013). Educational Leadership. San Franscisco: Jossey-Bass Reader.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning. London: Routlege.
Muhammad, A. (2009). Transforming School Culture. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.
Pink, D. (2012). To Sell is Human. London: Riverhead Books.