Monday, December 22, 2014

Change, Lessons Learned While Leading

If you’ve been around my blog over the last few years, you know my story. I was a High School math teacher, received my Masters in Educational Leadership from the University of Northern Iowa, and became the Principal of a struggling Middle School(identified as a Persistently Lowest Achieving School via NCLB regulations in the fall of 2009, I was hired in spring 2010). The reason I was hired was to lead change, period. My job was to turn around this school where 55% of students were reading at grade level. I’ll share my thoughts on the moral implications of reading at appropriate levels in a later post, but the situation we were in was dire.

In Michael Fullan’s book, Leading in a Culture of Change, he talks about the Moral Purpose of change (that’s chapter 2 of Fullan’s book). I am a firm believer in there needs to be an urgency for change. In my situation, there was an urgency for change. By being identified as a Persistently Lowest Achieving School (PLAS), the community and staff were embarrassed and disappointed of the student achievement in the community. Now, we can debate the effectiveness of NCLB, but it’s tough to debate that it created urgency for change. Many would argue the effectiveness of the changes made, but it made change necessary. The status quo of past practices was no longer allowed. Anyway, our staff and our community had a reason to make some changes. Our staff rallied around the Moral Purpose of providing an education fit for our students.

In Fullan’s fourth chapter, titled Relationships, Relationships, Relationships, he discusses the need for building relationships when leading change. During my first year, I did not force change. I spent so much time building relationships with staff. I wanted to create trust. The changes I had in store necessitated that my staff trust me. What did this look like you ask... Conversations, conversations, and more conversations. I would purposefully seek out teachers during their preps, just to say hello or ask how their day was. I was in classroom, not to catch them doing something wrong, but to praise them for the good things I saw and there were lots of good things! Our staff had to see that I trusted them as professional educators and they had to trust me to lead them and trust that as we made changes, failure along the path would be accepted, learned from and built upon.

We spent time building to the change. We focused our professional development time on quality instructional practices, mostly formative assessment. The real changes came late in year one and into year two. We repurposed time during the day to provide supplemental instruction. We focused on quality teaching. If you are a PLC person, you know the Pyramid Response to Intervention. If 80% of students aren’t meeting expectations, then the core, classroom practices must be improved upon. Along with this focus on improving instructional practices in the core, we also provided supplemental instruction and focused on strategies to meet students were they were. Many students were not reading at grade level. We had to close that gap. We had to do it for our students!

What I have learned along this path we have taken over the past five years is this.... In order to implement changes, the people in the system have to understand why. To change for change sake is a waste. They have to have grasp the Moral Purpose of why the change is necessary. What’s to gain for my students? The people, your staff, have to trust you. In order to build trust, relationships have to be built.