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.