High Expectations: Beliefs and Actions - Steve Barkley

High Expectations: Beliefs and Actions

“The key to creating a high-expectations culture is to understand that “high expectations” is both believing in the capabilities of the students and adults in your building—and engaging in the actions that turn those beliefs into truths. “

This statement from a blog on the New Leaders website titled, How Great Principals Drive High Expectations connected with me. What connected was the element of “engaging in the actions.”  I consistently encourage school leaders, both administrative and teacher, to consider the role that their actions play in generating desired outcomes. In my backwards planning framework, the leadership behaviors drive the actions at the bottom to support teachers in guiding students’ actions that build student success at the top.

The New Leaders blog added, “So much of what builds a high-expectation culture for students—a supportive climate, peer cooperation and collaboration, showing trust by giving students responsibility for their learning, taking the time to get to know students and their interests—is the same for the adults in your school building. When teachers and staff are held to their own set of high expectations, they’re not only more engaged, but they’re also more focused on creating the same rigor for their students. Setting this similar environment begins with these leadership actions:

  • “Giving teachers autonomy and agency when it comes to their professional learning. Co-developing PD plans that help teachers align with how they want to grow in their careers shows you value and trust their expertise.”

One example of autonomy related to PD is found in the schools that have adopted a hypothesis model of professional growth plans. Teachers generate a hypothesis around what teacher actions could generate the student learning production behaviors that would lead to increased student success. Teachers directing their experience and sharing their learning with colleagues is empowering. In a podcast Marina McDonald, a director of teaching and learning, shared that;

“Risk -taking increases when you ask teachers to look at student evidence, look at data and make a hypothesis about how they think they can improve that. Instead of setting a goal for myself professionally, where I have all the control, if I set a goal for myself, I can read a book, I can take a class, I can do the assignments. But when I commit to a hypothesis that may improve student learning and student achievement, I’m taking a risk because it might not be true. And I might make mistakes, but that’s why having peer coaching and collaborating with each other is supportive in this process.”

In another podcast elementary principal, Haley Beavert, describes a program trading required mandatory faculty meetings for optional learning opportunities. She identifies the strategy as an example of de-implementation. The program, called “Feed Your Brain,” has teachers organizing learning opportunities for professional development and has now expanded to other schools in the district.

  • “Creating time for teachers and staff to collaborate with and learn from one another. Talent multiplies talent—and students need the best of everything your team has to offer.”

I have frequently shared the story of working with a large group of principals who were exploring the value of teacher collaboration, and someone said out loud, “there is just no time in the schedule for teachers to collaborate. My response was, “We need to talk to the people who make the schedule.” The realization was that in most cases, they were the folks making the schedule.  A starting point for leader action is to build a schedule that promotes collaboration. Unlikely we can find time; the key is leaders making time. I worked with a school principal who told me teacher collaboration was the first thing she built into the start of scheduling because if she waited, it became impossible. Finding time doesn’t work; we need to make time.

In an earlier blog I explored these questions for a leadership team conversation:

  • Is your leadership team in agreement concerning your staff’s current sense of collective efficacy and collaboration?
  • To what extent are the current staff beliefs sufficient to generate the desired impact on student success?
  • Should your leadership team establish a purposeful plan for strengthening the sense of collective efficacy and collaboration?

(This blog includes questions you can use in a survey to gather staff’s perceptions)

  • “Expanding leadership opportunities and engaging teams in driving continuous improvement efforts, also known as distributed leadership. School leaders identifying and cultivating nascent leadership for the good of driving a shared vision of excellence across their school community can lead to breakthrough results.”

“Teacher leaders combine their classroom experience, interest in educational policy and management, and understanding of applied learning theories to serve the school system beyond the classroom.”

                                  (Goodwin University)

We can define teacher leadership as “the process by which teachers, individually or collectively, influence their colleagues, principals, and other members of the school community to improve teaching and learning practices with the aim of increased student learning and achievement”. (York-Barr, J., & Duke, K. What do we know about teacher leadership? Findings from two decades of scholarship) I envision two items for instructional coaches’ and principals’ conscious focus: opportunity and coaching. How are you creating the opportunities for teacher leadership roles? What coaching are you providing teachers as they are learning and practicing leadership skills? As an example, leaders’ time may be better spent coaching teachers as PLC facilitators rather than facilitating those activities themselves.

What are your beliefs about the impact of teachers experiencing autonomy, collaboration, and leadership opportunities?  What is necessary for a culture of high expectations for staff and students? What purposeful actions will your leadership team be taking that illustrate your beliefs in action?

 

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