What ripple effect do you want to leave on students and adults in your school building? Our impact as educational leaders can vary. Back in November, I wrote about some ways to profoundly impact student improvement and achievement as a leader. In January, 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 cultivate a healthy climate so students and adults believe in the vision and can progress each school year. Our core business as educators is to help students grow academically, socio-emotionally, and in civility by at least one year, for each year of school.
The 3Cs- Clarity, Credibility, and Collaboration
1.) Clarity. Like students, adults 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 people’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. Here’s what it includes:
- A goal statement—ensure a year’s growth or more.
- Two thoroughly defined instructional action steps constructed to attain the goal—teacher clarity and know thy impact.
- The necessary support structures to hone people’s skills and advance people’s thinking—through professional development, collaboration, and coaching (which are strategically aligned to the instructional steps).
The principals and I further reinforce the expectations as well as communicate progress (around implementing teacher clarity as measured through student clarity) by giving specific and measurable feedback to staff and students following classroom visitations.
2.) 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 the confidence of one’s team in several ways:
- By being consistent with his/her word.
- By being exceptionally knowledgeable.
- And by being vulnerable.
First, the goal in our school district has remained, not just clear, but stable throughout the school year. In other words, the goal(s) do not shift or change during the year (the milestones along the way, the response and supports will alter). Second, along with fellow principals in my school district, we constructed the district strategic plan based on current literature and empirical data. We used John Hattie’s research, some of the most compelling 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.
- Lastly, best-selling writer Daniel Pink (2010) writes in regards to building trust, “as the size of the groups increased, it required more sophisticated understandings and interactions with people.” (p.77). One way I 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 (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. The staff can provide feedback around what worked well, and what I should try next.
3.) Collaborative spirit. Give people a voice yet command the focus be on student learning and quality instructional practices. The purpose for each collaborative conversation, formal or informal is centered around 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” -Anthony Muhammad, PhD.
I also show the importance of continuing my own growth (and my vulnerability) by actively participating in our bimonthly district collaborations. 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 about 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 their organization’s vision. 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.
Students deserve to have at least one go-to adult during their academic career. Educators and educational leaders also need 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. Some students revealed their innate goodness immediately and it was easy to appreciate them; others worked hard to conceal their innate goodness. I would joke with them, “Don’t you worry, the day will come when the talents/gifts you are hiding will emerge and stay.” The students and I were each other’s advocate: for learning, for happiness (even if only in the moment), and for healthy interactions.
When I was a teacher, it meant my principal believed in me. Even when I doubted 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. Now as 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. 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.
Teresa Rensch has been the director of curriculum and instruction the past 3 years in Konocti Unified School District, leading staff in an effort to ensure one year’s growth for students. Prior to this position, Teresa was the principal of North Tahoe Middle School for the past 10 years.