Sunday, December 9, 2012

Full Clinical Cycle: Post-Observation Conference

Overall, I think the post-observation conference for my full clinical cycle observation went well. The teacher I observed was very open to talking about her strengths and weaknesses and is eager to learn and improve her teaching practice. This positive, open attitude made the post-observation conference much easier to facilitate.

The conference took place in the teacher’s room during her prep period. In hindsight, it would have been better to meet after school so that the teacher would not have to rush to prepare for the next group of students coming in for class. I think the conversation would have been longer and more productive without this time constraint. We sat together at a table and the tone of the conversation was focused but friendly. I have a good collegial relationship with this teacher, so that relationship positively impacted our conference.

The main strategy I used to improve instruction was the use of questioning to allow the teacher to come to her own conclusions about her areas of improvement and strategies to get there. As I used our district evaluation form, she was very familiar with the examples of demonstrated teacher and students skills that the form asks the observer to look for. In each section of the form, I asked her how she demonstrated these skills or how she could enhance the lesson to demonstrate the skills that were not in the lesson. I clarified her statements with my observations and used my observations to prompt more in depth thought on the topics. For example, when discussing classroom management, I asked the teacher “How do you manage transitions in the class?” (I had observed her talking over the students to transition them from one activity to the next.) She stated that as these were AP students, they tended to get very into their group work discussions and she found it hard to transition them to the next activity as she thought she was interrupting their “flow”. She stated she felt that she never had enough time for the lessons. I discussed what I observed and we brainstormed some ways that she could keep to her agenda, some cues for the students when transitioning and how to how to incorporate some flexibility when the students were engaged and learning. Once piece that I could improve on in this area, would be to get more quotes from students on the topics that we were discussing. Additional quotes from students, especially these senior students, would have been great prompts for discussing teaching strategies and instructional areas for growth.

The primary supervisory behaviors I used were collaborative and non-directive. Although this teacher is fairly new, she is functioning at a high level of understanding and self-awareness of her teaching. I used the collaborative strategies for the areas of classroom management, instructional design and planning and used the non-directive strategies for the areas of curriculum content. The course I observed was Advanced Placement Language. In this curricular area, this teacher had much more expertise than myself, so this strategy worked best to assist the teacher in thinking about the lesson and the strengths and weakness that we both observed. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Room Arrangements

The building I work in is a Pre-K-12 building. In observing the various room arrangements it was interesting to compare the preschool to the 5th grade to the 8th grade to the high school classrooms. There was not one common classroom arrangement throughout or even within the grade levels.

In the lower elementary classrooms, there are some rooms with very few desks, and just a few tables for stations around the room. Most of these classrooms have a reading corner with a cozy rug, pillows and a rocking chair for the teacher to read to the class. Many of these classrooms share a common hallway between them with a sink, a restroom and storage cabinets. The teachers’ desks were in various locations throughout the rooms. Most of these classrooms have a bank of laptops on a counter against one wall, a mounted projector and a document camera on a cart near the teacher’s desk. Some of these classrooms also have classroom audio systems to amplify the teachers voice through the sound system.

Some of these rooms were loaded with decorations, artwork, themed posters and animal cages. Although fun, these could be distracting for some students. These early elementary classrooms with the teacher’s desk near the front, would be challenging to supervise staff because there is not really in a unobtrusive place to watch and observe. The tables and chairs are all so tiny and adult workspace is limited.

The upper elementary classrooms were mostly organized in rows of desks or by tables with four students to a table and student cubbies in the back of the classroom. Although the tables would help foster collaborative group work, it might be distracting for students to get books and supplies from their cubby each time they need something. The teachers’ desks were mostly in the corners in the front of the classrooms. Most of these classrooms had their books and resources on one side of the classroom and their “turn-in” baskets near the teacher’s desk. One interesting thing in the upper elementary classrooms were that many of the student chairs were replaced with stability balls on bases. These teachers have used their “box-top” money to purchase these balls for the students. It is interesting to peek in a room and see 20 heads bobbing up and down while the teacher is teaching, but many of these teachers claim the students are able to focus better on the balls. These rooms share laptop carts on wheels and charging carts for student iPads. These carts are mostly located in the back of the room. Observation or professional development would be easier in these rooms as there are more workable adult spaces and mounted projectors in every room.

The middle and high school classrooms are a mix of desks, long tables and grouped tables. Some rooms have students in rows, others have students in groups, while others have students around the outer edge of the room. In one English room I visited the teacher had the desks arranged in two groups on each side of the room, facing each other, with her desk in the middle on one end. She said that this arrangement seems to foster more active, lively discussions as most students can see each other face-to-face. These teachers also share laptop computer carts, so some rooms need space for this in the back of the classroom. In most rooms that do not have students in rows, observations would be easier as the observer could more easily see student behavior, participation and reactions without having to sit at the front of the room. Overall most teachers seemed to be aware of traffic patterns and positioned high traffic areas (printers, teacher’s desk, work turn-in/return baskets, computer carts) near the back of the room to minimize distraction.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Effective Leadership - Final Reflection

In starting this course, I really didn't know what to expect. I have taken other educational leadership courses in the past, and they were heavily steeped in theory and generally hard for me to transfer to my work as a then teacher. This course also provided a lot of leadership theories, but there was much relevant tie in with the real work of school administrators. The assignments, discussions and group work were valuable in providing a deeper connection to the material. The two topics that stuck out for me throughout this course were the idea of servant leadership and effectively managing change. Although there were many, many other ideas I could discuss in this final reflection, those were the two that impacted me the most throughout this course.
            Before starting this course, when I thought about effective school leaders, my mind would picture an outgoing, charismatic, passionate leader. One who inspires everyone he or she meets and is willing and determined to take on challenges with a “full steam ahead” attitude. As new school administrator myself, I found this idea challenging because that is simply not my personality. I am passionate about my work and not afraid to take on challenges, but I am usually able to accomplish more when I spend more time initially listening rather than acting. I am a very patient, kind person and I try very hard to listen to the concerns of others and then put structures in place which allow them to be successful. When I read the Jossey-Bass chapter by Thomas Sergiovanni on “Leadership as Stewardship”, I found my own leadership philosophies validated throughout this reading.
            Barth discussed the servant leader as the “head learner, engaged in the most important enterprise of the schoolhouse–experiencing, displaying, modeling and celebrating what it is hoped and expected that teachers and pupils will do” (as cited in Sergiovanni, 1992, p. 80). This style is not a command or even instructional style leadership. It is a way to empower teachers to better manage themselves, therefore aligning the work of all teachers with the school’s overarching goals. Sergiovanni (1992) also highlighted the concept of “power over” verses “power to” (p. 86). When administrators practice “power over” leadership, they set the rules and guidelines in which others must adhere to. The leadership power is solely in the school leader and the constituents are expected to follow the leader. In a “power to” leadership style, the leadership is established around shared goals and constituents are empowered to make decisions and design initiatives as long as they are aligned with the school vision and goals.
            This type of leadership makes so much sense to me. As a teacher with a former servant leader as a principal, I learned fast that this freedom and empowerment to take on challenges and make decisions was exciting and invigorating. I truly felt a part of the learning community and that my actions impacted everyone. This is how I want to lead others in my role as a technology director. I want the teachers I work with to feel excited about their work and realize the positive energy that can come from working together as a team towards common goals. After learning about the servant leadership style, I no longer picture that authoritative, take-charge personality when I think of successful school leaders. I now think of individuals who put the goals of the school above all else and work with their colleagues to achieve these goals through listening, modeling, encouraging, empowering and supporting others.
            The second issue in the course, one that I found more challenging, was the issue of managing change; both first and second order change as described by Marzano (2005). I not only found the idea of managing change daunting, but I also disagreed with Marzano’s (2005) assessment that second-order change is not incremental in that it is so out of the box it requires completely new perspectives. In our early work on creating a shared vision and school goals, I don’t see how second order change would involve radically new concepts if a shared vision is currently in place is a school. If that vision and accompanying goals are defining the work of the school, then even dramatic changes would still be viewed as incremental in achieving the goals of the school.
            In reading about these different types of change, my ideas on leading through shared decision making with strong and continuous communication were reinforced. If school leaders and leadership teams are able to communicate how a change (first or second order) will move the school forward in reaching its goals, then some of the fear, confusion and hesitation that can accompany change (Fullan, 2001) can be alleviated.
            As a technology director, school issues in educational technology drive my work and decision making. The pace of change with educational technology is ever changing is challenging component to negotiate. As decisions are made with the best data at the time, and then the “next big thing” comes along a few months later, it is important to understand that this is a part of the leadership process with educational technology. Communicating how decisions and purchases are being driven by larger school goals is very important in generating support for technology initiatives. I truly found the course work for this class to be beneficial in providing me the skills and insights to be a more effective educational leader. The challenge will be to keep these ideas in the forefront as my immense day-to-day work of school administration continues.

Marzano, R., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. [Kindle Version] Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Sergiovanni, T. (1992). Leadership and stewardship. In The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership (2nd ed.). San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Fullan, M. (2001). Understanding change. In The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership (2nd ed.). San Fransisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Leadership Responsibilities - Self-Assessment

In self assessing my own strengths and weakness against the leadership responsibilities in the Marzano reading, I found that I do some things very well and have other responsibility areas to work on. Some of the definitions of the various responsibility areas differed from my own definitions, which provide a deeper opportunity for reflection in these areas. The correlation with student achievement was also an interesting perspective to explore and provided insight in how I define my role within the school. This perspective also helped me explore how I can have a greater impact on student achievement though the intentional development of these leadership responsibilities.

The improvement areas, as highlighted in the self-assessment were “change agent”, “monitor/evaluate”, “order”, “flexibility”, “visibility”, “situational awareness”, and “discipline”. Some of these areas I could have predicted before taking the self-assessment. For example, I know that I need to work on being more visible during the school day. I easily get caught up in the barrage of emails I get on a daily basis, and days seem to slip by while I work in my office on various projects. As Marzano, describes, interactions with students, teachers and parents throughout the school day are extremely valuable in conveying a message of engagement and involvement in the school. Much of my communication with these groups is electronic. My goal for this school year is to be much more visable in the hallways, classroom and school events. This will naturally lead to informal data gathering to inform my work.

The leadership responsibility definition of flexibility was different than my initial definition. I have always thought of myself as a flexible school administrator. I adapt my work to the meet the needs various stakeholders and I allow my perspective to change with additional information. According to Marzano (2005) flexibility is described as “the extend to which leaders adapt their leadership behavior to the needs of the current situation and are comfortable with dissent” (Chapter 4, Section 7, para 1). This comfort with dissent is a weakness of mine, therefore I found the responsibility of flexibility to be an area of improvement. Flexibility had a higher correlation to student achievement (.28) than other areas, so I do realize the importance of the this leadership responsibility and will work on improving this area of my work.

My strength areas included the areas of “outreach” and “culture among others. Both of these areas had higher correlations to student achievement, .27 and .25 respectively. Outreach, as defined by Marzano, includes the extent to with an administrator advocates for the school, to a variety of individuals and groups. As the director of technology, a large part of my role is advocating for funds for technology to enhance and differentiate student learning. This can be challenging, but also a very rewarding component of my job.

Marzano, R., Waters, T., & McNulty, B. (2005). School leadership that works: From research to results. [Kindle Version] Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Transformational Leadership

Transformational leadership supports a “leader of leaders” model within a school. This type of leadership works to create a positive school culture, set a school-wide vision and build capacity in other members of the learning community. Transformational leadership can flourish in a learning environment because it because it focuses on the needs of the students, teachers and community through the lens of large systemic change. This view not only addresses these needs through “big picture” goals but also taps into the strengths of others. As Leithwood (2007) discusses in the Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership, this type of leadership, driven by shared values and high expectations, fosters a positive culture with a dedicated and inspired staff.

Transactional leadership, driven by the accountability movement, is a model of leadership found in many schools. This type of leadership is characterized by a strong school leader that is focused on the teaching and learning in their school. They use various control measures and extrinsic rewards to motivate staff members. Transformational leadership can impact the way an administrator leads a school, because it changes the focus of the leader. The focus becomes a broader, value-based leadership based on building leadership in may ways, by many people, with intrinsic rewards and shared school goals. This type of leadership may be harder to witness and pin point because it is so tightly interwoven with the school culture. Administrators may spend less time managing the teaching environment and more time building leadership capacity from within the school.

The transformational theory can positively impact school goals when applied by an administrator in leading technology integrated instruction. This application includes empowering teachers to use technologies to engage, motivate and teach their students, without the dictation of pecific tools. The administrator would build leadership skills in technology teacher leaders to support colleagues and the school vision. Technology professional development would focus on the overarching themes of student learning, engagement and 21st century skill development.

Leithwood, K. (2007). Chapter thirreen. In The Jossey-Bass Reader on Educational Leadership
(2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Orientation Reflection

My expectations for this program are to acquire additional administrative and leadership skills that will help me to be successful in my role as the director of technology. I also hope to gain new insights on myself as a learner and leader as well as the online learning process as a whole. I hope to be able to directly apply my new learning to benefit the students and staff in my school. I have taken online courses in the past, but these courses seem to have a larger variety of activities and requirements. This will be more engaging and challenging as I work through the program. With a busy job and two small children, I have found that I need to block out chunks of time in our family calendar, hole up in my bedroom and plug through the work so that I can meet deadlines. I am not great at multitasking for meaningful tasks, so this scheduled time is a must for me as a learner. I am still getting the hang of the online learning environment. There are a lot of components, and things are posted in multiple locations. This is helpful but also confusing. I believe that once I am enrolled in an actual course, and have more time to navigate the environment, this will start to make more sense.