By Paul Freeman, Kelly Lyman, Bryan Luizzi, Howard Thiery, Diane Ullman, and Jason Culbertson
While the news is full of bans on travelers from Middle Eastern countries, five Connecticut superintendents are forging a partnership with a committed group of educators in Amman, Jordan. The project is a partnership between Queen Rania’s Teacher Academy (QRTA), the Canadian State Department, and the Neag School of Education at the University of Connecticut. With the support and involvement of the University of Jordan and the Jordanian Ministry of Education, educators from QRTA and UCONN have been collaborating since 2014 to develop the program, which is designed to support practicing public school principals throughout Jordan.
The QRTA Advanced Leadership Training Program was originally born out of a collegial relationship between Diane Ullman, then Director of the Neag Administrator Preparation Program (UCAPP) and former superintendent of the Simsbury, CT Public Schools, and Mary Tadros, the Academic Programs Advisor at QRTA, who met while conducting international school accreditation visits. After two years of planning, this project came to fruition with the vision, commitment and support of the CEO of QRTA, Haif Bannayan, who is passionate about improving the educational attainment of all students in the Kingdom of Jordan.
Now in its second year, the program is built on four week-long modules drawn from courses within Neag’s UCAPP curriculum. As shared in an article last year, the goal of the program is to give participating principals the leadership skills they need to improve student performance at scale while training QRTA staff to continue delivery of the program beyond the initial three-year program.
Using a train-the-trainer model, with gradual release of responsibility to QRTA trainers across three cohorts of participants, UCONN instructors and instructional coaches work together using a cognitive coaching model that both supports instruction and models the coaching relationship for the QRTA trainers. Instructors for the four modules are all practicing superintendents in Connecticut and adjunct instructors in the UCAPP program: Paul Freeman from Guilford Public Schools, Kelly Lyman from Mansfield Public Schools, Bryan Luizzi from New Canaan Public Schools, and Howard Thiery from Regional School District 17.
The coaching makes both the design of the modules and the instructional pedagogy transparent to the QRTA trainers, who will assume responsibility for continued implementation of the program after the initial three cohorts.
The program focuses on four areas of leadership development: Organizational Frames, School Climate and Culture, Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, and Supervision and Evaluation. The modules were designed to meet the advanced skill objectives of the Jordanian Standards for Principals and the Continuous Professional Development for Leaders Framework from the Jordan Ministry of Education.
Meeting the Challenges
Applying mostly Western research within the context of a country half a world away--while simultaneously meeting the needs of a leadership development process defined by a national ministry--was a daunting task.
And more significantly, the instructors became aware of the degree to which specific details and conditions in Jordan qualitatively differ from those in Connecticut. The Jordanian principals were struggling with class sizes ranging from 40 to 50, even to 60, in schools absorbing thousands of Syrian refugees into student bodies already overcrowded and under-resourced.
The next challenge was the delivery of content. Not only are Jordanian schools under-resourced, but so too are school employees and professionals striving to improve their own practice. Money for professional texts, digital devices, and regular professional learning experiences is scarce. Because Arabic is the primary language of principals participating in the advanced training program, all training materials, needed to be translated, as did the live instruction.
The final essential component was the cognitive coaching element. This train-the-trainer process would include building background knowledge, understanding instructional practices responsive to the needs of the participants, and supporting principals to apply their new knowledge both through the completion of program assignments and by developing professional learning communities among the participants that would continue in the years to come.
Launching and Learning
And after nearly two years of preparation, cohort 1 was launched. The first module of cohort 1, with 50 participants including principals, QRTA staff, and Jordanian Ministry of Education supervisors, was a learning experience for everyone involved. Initially, QRTA staff provided translation in a side-by-side arrangement. The instructor spoke, then her words were translated. This was deemed too cumbersome to continue, so funding was needed to provide live translation via headsets, allowing for much more open and free-flowing discussions.
In year 1, at the end of each instructional day, a cognitive coaching debrief was conducted individually between coach and instructor in a fishbowl with the QRTA instructors observing. This allowed the trainers to see into the planning and the processing of the instructors as they reflected upon our design and implementation of the module. The instructors benefited from real-time coaching, reflecting upon and revising their teaching as the week of instruction unfolded.
Cohort 2, now underway, is twice the size of the first cohort, with two instructors paired with four QRTA trainers in parallel classrooms. The UCONN instructors and the QRTA trainers have formed a rich professional learning community (PLC), through which they are sharing the module content, refining the design and delivery of the modules to better fit the Jordanian context, and learning together.
In year 2 the coaching model has evolved to become a collaborative debrief and comparative discussion as the instructors and trainers from the two separate classrooms compare notes and make collaborative plans to modify instruction moving forward. Trainers who had responsibility for elements of instruction during the day also receive feedback from Jason Culbertson, the executive coach with a rich K-12 leadership experience. Following each day of instruction, Jason delivers an evening coaching session which drives reflection on specific instructional moves in order to adjust and roll out improvements in the next day’s session.
Allowing the trainers to partner-teach with the instructors allows for a greater Jordanian context to be included in the conversations, and it increases the amount of talking that takes place in Arabic.
Assessing the Impact
As the work continues, UCONN professor and researcher Jennie Wiener and a QRTA research team led by Abeer Hakouz are conducting a study of the impact of the program. The focus of the evaluation is twofold:
- To understand the degree to which program modules enhance participating school leaders’ knowledge and skills in areas aligned with research on school improvement and needs assessment; and
- To assess the degree to which the “train the trainer” approach is building capacity on the part of QRTA to effectively run the program independently.
Early study results show high levels of learning in the modules and suggest positive impacts on instructional leadership. Perhaps the greatest takeaway for all those involved, however, is that connections and relationships remain the foundation of the work done by educators. The educators in both Connecticut and Amman feel more knowledgeable, more skilled, and better prepared to meet the challenges of our schools and our districts because of these relationships that we have forged, and we know that children in both Jordan and Connecticut will be better served because of the essential lessons that the educators have learned from each other.
The four superintendents include Paul Freeman from Guilford Public Schools in Guilford, CT, Kelly Lyman from Mansfield Public Schools in Mansfield, CT, Bryan Luizzi from New Canaan Public Schools in New Canaan, CT, and Howard Thiery from Regional School District 17 in Higganum, CT. Diane Ullman is Director of the Advanced Instructional Leadership Program and Professor of Practice at the Neag School of Education. Jason Culbertson is the president at Insight Education Group.
The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.