Monday, July 30, 2012

Awakening... Ch. 3

 The book we are reading for the summer for the Teacher Leadership Academy is Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders by Marilyn Katzenmeyer and Gayle Moller. I'm blogging chapter by chapter my thoughts and impressions. 

Chapter 3: Developing Teacher Leaders 
Coming back to the idea that teachers can learn to lead, this chapter discusses professional development and the supports needed for teacher leaders. The criticisms of existing professional development are sound. Their ideas for what constitutes good professional development seem to include collaboration, problem-solving, follow-up support and applicability to the workplace. They all sound good to me! Generally I didn't underline or make many notes for this chapter - I agreed with a lot of it but nothing stood out to me as a new thought on the issues.

The chapter includes a self-assessment for how ready you are to be a teacher leader in different areas. My strongest area was self-awareness. My two weakest were communication and diversity - because although I can communicate, I don't do so enough. That has a lot to do with being an introvert. Diversity was basically seeing and accepting other perspectives - which surprised me to be so weak - but then I thought about the fact that I don't do that as well at work as outside of it.

After discussing self awareness the chapter also brings up the differences among colleagues that can make change hard: "whenever schools attempt to make change, conflict is a natural result." (p. 59) I have a very conflict-avoidant personality, and I'm realizing that my hesitance to get involved in anything I see as potentially creating conflict is a large part of why I'm so shy to stand out as a leader. The idea that conflict is almost inevitable and that's okay is actually pretty freeing in my mind. It shifts my perspective from feeling responsible for creating a conflict when I should have somehow avoided it to accepting that conflict will arise and learning how to do deal with it.

Looking back at the last year as my building has tried to put into place a remediation period designed by the teachers, I can see this, and I can see that we have all developed a better understanding of the consensus process. Last summer, as we were developing the program, small disagreements led to long arguments and people were often unwilling to give in a point even after the vote went to another one. This summer as we worked on changes to the program, it felt much calmer. People brought up their ideas, disagreements were stated, we came to a decision and moved on.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Awakening... ch.2

The book we are reading for the summer for the Teacher Leadership Academy is Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders by Marilyn Katzenmeyer and Gayle Moller. I'm blogging chapter by chapter my thoughts and impressions. 

Chapter 2: Promoting Teacher Leadership
This chapter is about why we should promote teacher leadership. Again, I felt like many things I thought were expressed more clearly. I wrote "yes!" in margins a lot. In particular, I like the discussion of creating and modeling democratic communities. I have been ranting about the ways that schools need to model democracy if we want people to participate more in democracy since I was in high school, so of course I agreed with that. They also discuss common obstacles to building this, such as culture or administration unwilling to share power.

I found their explanation of how describing a school as a family can actually be detrimental to the culture *fascinating.* We tend to talk about the C--- Family in my building, which had occasionally made me uneasy but I'd never really given it much thought. It does have positive aspects, such as the support we give each other when people are facing outside problems. However, they point out that the idea of a school as a family "preserves the hierarchical structure in which the administrators are the parents and the other faculty and staff members are dependent children." (p.27) This is in direct opposition to the idea of a democratic community where everyone is equal, and can cause conflict when trying to change a school.

The finding that "unless teachers were involved in the decision-making around the innovation, there was little chance that the reform efforts would succeed" did not surprise me. (p.28) The reality is that any change that teachers don't buy into, they will follow along with enough to fill out all the necessary paperwork (grumbling all the while) and no more. The best way to get people to buy into something is to give them a chance to be part of the decision - then they have a stake in it, and may even feel responsible for making it succeed since it was, in part, their idea.

They also point the ways that mandates can make teachers feel that they are not treated as professionals - and I know from experience how much it hurts to be highly qualified in something and then basically treated like a robot who doesn't have the brains to make their own decisions about what to do or how to do it. I firmly believe that in any endeavor, when you have experts, you tell the experts your goal and then leave them alone to achieve it. Unfortunately, this does not happen in public education.

Another chunk of the chapter concerns itself with the benefits of teacher leadership. It's a long list, but two items really stood out for me. One was retaining excellent teachers - they mention that the "teacher shortage" exists because we are not retaining teachers, not because people don't want to be teachers. This is very very true. Related was the idea of career enhancement - based on the problem of "how to provide an environment in which good teachers are motivated throughout their careers." (p. 33) I posted along time ago about this issue - what was keeping me motivated at that time was how much I cared about teaching well and not repeating my mistakes, but caring on its own is a finite resource. This is a big source of teacher burnout.

Finally they debunk some assumptions they've encountered about teacher leadership. The most interesting one to me was the discussion of the idea that leaders are born. They disagree, obviously, and feel that leadership skills can be learned. More importantly, they talk about the need for effective professional development around leadership, so that teachers are supported and have chances to practice leadership skills. I guess I found this reassuring because I have been just getting my feet wet as a teacher leader and thinking that my inability to jump right in meant I wasn't really suited for it. The idea that this is something I can learn to do and get help practicing sounds great!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Ch. 1

The book we are reading for the summer for the Teacher Leadership Academy is Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Helping Teachers Develop as Leaders by Marilyn Katzenmeyer and Gayle Moller. I'm blogging chapter by chapter my thoughts and impressions.

Chapter 1: Understanding Teacher Leadership
Reading this chapter felt like someone had taken a lot of my vague criticisms and unease with my situation over the last few years and laid it out, nice and clearly, with suggestions on how to make things better.

It starts out with the idea that the best way to improve schools is to invest in teacher learning, and create a leadership structure that includes teachers. Yes please? They talk about the challenge of school reforms that are top down - when the principal or whoever initiated the reform leaves, it can be very hard to sustain if the teachers have not bought into it or do not continue to get the support needed to pursue it. I think this is one of the biggest issues that schools face - building structures to allow for continuous improvement that doesn't rely on a few key people doing all the work. I know that many reform schools have done great work and then failed when new management was brought in or the key idea people left. I can see this in my own quite ordinary school - ideas without a champion die.

They also spend some time criticizing existing models of professional development, because it "does not result in changed teacher behavior in the classroom unless follow-up coaching and support are offered." (p. 4) I paused here and thought about the prof. dev. I 'd attended through the district compared to my grad program, which had teams and thus the support was strongly embedded in the structure. That had much more affect on what I did in the classroom than anything else I'd experienced. It seems obvious, after all, we don't expect our students to change habits without follow-up support. Yet I still periodically sit through professional development activities which will never be mentioned again.

A lot of the chapter discusses just what a teacher leader is and barriers that many teachers face to becoming leaders. I did like that they discussed both formal and informal leadership roles for teachers. One thing that I think was very absent from the discussion was the role of the internet in teacher leadership. According to them, one of the aspects of a teacher leader is that they "lead within and beyond the classroom." (p.6) Looking around at the influence of people whose blogs I've read or who I've communicated with on twitter about education, I can see that online communication allows us many new opportunities to be leaders. This is very valuable, and missing in a discussion that focuses on in-building leadership.

They also talk about how hard it can be to build a professional learning community. I know that this is becoming the next big educational buzzword (and acronym, PLC and PLN are showing up everywhere now) and I really worry that the concept is not given the thought it deserves before being attempted. Just like other fads that had some value before people tried to simplify and spread them, I guess. I am hopeful that this will not be true in my building/district, because I have been seeing acknowledgment on many levels of the time and effort creating this community will take.

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Rebirth

Hello? If anyone still has this on their reader, I'm back!

This blog faded away while I was in grad school. I have a few unfinished drafts based on readings we were doing but the reality is that all of my writer-brain was absorbed in writing papers and journals for grad school. Then I graduated in the summer of 2010 (yay!) and promptly all my free time was absorbed by packing and moving. That fall I went back to work thinking that I would go back to blogging, but instead I started a year-long stretch of physical therapy three afternoons a week. If you've ever done pt, you know how it can eat up your free time.

For a while I was going to give up on this blog entirely and start a new one because I've been wanting to write again but I have grown and learned and generally am not the person who wrote here regularly four years ago. However, I reread one of my old posts about how I have a bad habit of giving up on things when they get hard and starting over, so I figured I shouldn't do that this time.

This year I will be teaching a new class for the first time in years - AP government. I'm really excited, as I'd hit a point with World II where it felt like I'd tried everything, including ideas that I previously gave up on as too out there, and had run dry. At the same time, I know how much *work* learning a new curriculum is going to be, especially since I will probably still be teaching World II and USH (or at least one of those) too.

I am also participating in this thing our county is running called the "Teacher Leadership Academy" that should be very interesting. Over the couple of years since graduating I've started taking hesitant steps towards more leadership in my building, which is something my grad program encouraged but that I have always been hesitant to do. The next few posts I have planned will mostly be reading journals related to that and the summer reading I assigned myself. I am also going to a week of AP training soon, which I am excited about. If I have time/internet while at that, I hope to blog about it a little.

I'm currently working on a sort of master plan for the 2012-13 school year for myself, goals for myself and my classes. I hope to incorporate more blogging in there somehwere.