While at The Learning Forward Conference in Atlanta I had the opportunity to attend a pre conference session, Professional Development as a Tool for Transforming Schools. It was led by Phil Schlechty (Schlechty Center for Leadership in School Reform) and Cheryl Arabie (assistant superintendent) and Amiee Woessner (supervisor of instruction) from the St. Tammany Parish schools in Louisiana.
I mentioned Schelechty’s work in an earlier blog on learning organizations.
In the session we learned about how St. Tammany Parish schools, which were devastated by Katrina (three schools were lost and 17 heavily damaged), used the crisis as a time of learning. In order to meet the immediate needs of the families in the community they discovered that schools are about more than just an education. Lessons learned in that crisis are carrying forward strengthening the system and individuals. Here is a great video that communicates their experience. (Well worth the viewing time.)
Here are the shared beliefs from their current strategic plan.
We believe that……
* We are a good school system and we must strive to be a great school system.
* Our core business is to create engaging work for every student, everyday.
* High quality schools and exemplary student achievement are the responsibility of the entire community.
* Teachers are leaders and designers who create engaging work for students.
* Students engagement is the key to learning.
* Effective instruction must meet the needs of all students so that every child can learn at expected high levels.
Phil Schlechty provided some insightful comments concerning the courageous leaders that our schools need:
If you don’t have time to read; you don’t have time to lead. I’ve suggested that school leaders need to be lead learners. Continuous improvement requires innovation which requires continuous learning.
Courageous leaders practice transparency, integrity, and honesty. These may create a short term cost but have a long term payoff. Phil explained that those traits may slow you down initially making progress seem more difficult, but building that culture and history over the long term pays off.
I asked Phil to identify some specific signs of principals who were courageous leaders. He added:
The questions that they ask, more than the answers they provide. Frequent readers of this blog know that I focus lots of coaching training on developing questioning skills that promote thinking and dialogue. Questioning is also a critical practice for leaders to facilitate their teams.
They have great crap detectors. I am sure that questioning skills help here. Am I getting accurate information and feedback? Do unobserved actions match observed actions? Are people walking the talk?
They advance an outlandish notion…Meaning ideas that do not have proof that they will work. This risk taking is critical to innovation and must be modeled by leaders who want the same from their staffs.
As I look back over the five comments I’m thinking it gives a great description for the outcomes I’d like students to develop:
Readers and Learners