Thursday, September 27, 2012

As a Matter of Principal

Wisconsin public education today, like many states, is in the condition of total reform. As in, when you go to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, a splash page should flash up and say, “Under Construction.”

A laundry list of different projects make up this list of reform. Heading up the list is the shift to Common Core State Standards, followed by NAEP cute scores, SBAC, Educator Effectiveness, ACT expansion, new reportcards, WISEdash, SIS, RtI, PBIS, and this list goes on.

Without a doubt, we all shoulder some responsibility for the effective implementation of these programs, but let’s not deceive ourselves and acknowledge the truth: Our building principals are going to bear much of the weight of these reforms. Much of it is on their shoulders; they are the modern Atlas, accountable for upholding the sky (apparently from falling).  

Now, I am blessed with an unbelievable administrative team. Smart, hard working, positive, caring, driven. They arrive early and go home late. They sacrifice time with their families without question. They trust but verify, have difficult conversations based on values, admit mistakes when wrong, and care about details when no one else does. To a large extent, the professionals who make up my administrative team are also my role models.  So, I come from a considerate and measured place when I ask this question: How on earth are our building administrators going to accomplish all that they are going to be asked to do?

In the ecology of a principal's calendar, there is no white space. We've all been there: after-school learning programs, summer academic academies, district-wide assessment cohesiveness, educational gaming partnerships, Google Apps training, new elementary Math curriculum, 20 percent staff turnover, inclusionary practice programming, a BYOD initiative, English curriculum revision--just to name a few our own recent projects. Our existing educator evaluation system is currently robust, and any white space after the previously mentioned is consumed by IEP meetings, discipline, attendance issues, parental concerns, and swarm of other urgent issues.

I already know what’s coming: overused and tired responses, such as “It’s not about doing more but doing things differently.” Or, “Focus on what matters most.” The tipping point that we are at, however, is significantly beyond clich├ęs, such as “We are gonna have to do more with less.”

Principals need time, leadership development, advocacy, and emotional support, and we (superintendents) need to help.

This means fighting against interests that don’t understand administrative function and want to compress leadership roles (such as hiring a dean of students or part-time administrators). It means finding a way to help building principals access the best professional development possible and advocating to school boards-legislators-parents-and community stakeholders for principal autonomy. It means helping them focus on possibilities instead of current obstacles.

In Greek Mythology, Heracles constructed two pillars to hold the sky for Atlas, hence freeing him of bearing the sole responsibility of possible collapse. What pillars will we build to help our building principals so that they don’t singularly bear the weight of the sun, the moon, and all the stars? 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Wisconsin Education Reforms

Wisconsin is currently experiencing what amounts to tectonic plate shifts in the field of education. Of course, reform isn't rare for education. From Desegregation to A Nation at Risk, and from Outcomes-Based Education to 21st Century Skill Frameworks, many veteran educators have seen the field of education literally evolve in front of their eyes. Today, however, we are muddling through reform more sophisticated and ambitious than ever before.

Because of the quantity, complexity, and inter-relatedness of the initiatives, many even in the field of education don't fully comprehend or are aware of the broad view of these reforms. Below is a collection of resources meant to help people better appreciate current education reform in Wisconsin.

Even after these lofty projects, still more looms on the horizon, including PI-34 teacher licensing and licensing renewal reform and graduation requirement reform.

Disclaimer: This review is a simplification of a complex series of initiatives. To actually grasp the nuance and detail of these initiatives, I encourage you to visit the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction website.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Leadership: To Awaken Possibility in Others

This video could almost be looked at as an extended definition of leadership. We all have much to argue about should we spend time looking for it. To focus our efforts, however, in awakening possibility and potential in others, this aim is—indeed—the substance of leadership. Leadership isn't first about test scores, policies, or being right or wrong or even “in-the-black.” It’s about community, relationships, trust, service, and vision. 

My favorite quotations: 

"One of the characteristics of a leader is that he not doubt for one moment the capacity of the people he’s leading to realize whatever he’s dreaming."

"This is about the bird who flies over the field and doesn't care about the fences."

"The conductor doesn't make a sound. He depends, for his power, on his ability to make other people powerful."

"Who am I being that [your] eyes are not shining?"