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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What Will Be Your Faculty Focus?

By Peter DeWitt — September 07, 2013 4 min read
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Have you ever wondered whether there were any original ideas left in education? It seems like many educators recycle the same ideas and give them a new name. Perhaps I’m feeling a bit raw after sitting in a few days of training that was more about compliance than anything else.

Don’t get me wrong...most trainings provide some sort of opportunity for growth and we know that, like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it. I just feel like when trainers say it’s not about compliance and then announce after every hour that you are recertified in whatever the session was about...it’s about compliance to them as well.

But then something happened. During a presentation on the enhanced growth model used in New York State, which is one of my least favorite topics, the presenter was personable, honest and funny. Those are three qualities that I respect. I still don’t like the enhanced growth model but I was engaged in his presentation.

I kept thinking to myself...”Do I do that enough in our faculty meetings?

I don’t want staff to have that same feeling of compliance. Compliance is awful and it’s definitely not fitting for education. Education should be about teachable moments, constructive conversations and establishing a risk-taking culture. We have great conversations in our faculty meetings...but do I do enough to engage the teachers I work with?

So I’m going to continue risk-taking...

One of the places where I feel like compliance has been the main goal is in faculty meetings. We have all sat in faculty meetings that were more about the time spent in the room than about any of the information being provided. When I was a teacher I remember sitting in a cafeteria for 30 minutes one time, without any speaker giving information, just because by contract we had to sit in the room until 4 o’clock. That was crazy to me.

Faculty meetings should mean something!

In early spring, I began talking with our Principal’s Advisory Committee (PAC) to come up with a focus for our faculty meetings this year. Last year, it seemed as though every month brought a new mandate and it felt very difficult to keep up with the changes. This year needs to be different for all of us.

Faculty Focus
This year each meeting will have a “Faculty Focus.” A faculty focus is not about an administrator getting up and acting like a college professor and treating teachers like students. We know that teachers are experts in the classroom but we also know we could learn a great deal from one another. We all become better when we share our thoughts and ideas collectively. My friend Terry Pickeral once said, “If you want to get something done easy...do it yourself. If you want something done right, do it with a group.”

Beginning at our first faculty meeting our Faculty Focus began. We shared our collective thoughts on what we want students to look like when they leave us. It is important to know if everyone in the school shares the same collective vision. In October we will move on to evidence-based observations. Observing teachers with an evidence-based mindset was a great way capture the full essence of instruction.

However, as much as administrators were trained in evidence-based observations, teachers were not. We will watch a video and then work in small groups to discuss the evidence we see. We will then come together as a larger group and discuss our findings.

In November and December our Faculty Focus will be on providing effective feedback. We are not just talking about the feedback teachers provide to students; we are also referring to the feedback school leaders provide to teachers, and what students provide to us.

In Visible Learning (2009) John Hattie wrote, “80% of feedback that a student receives about his or her work in elementary (primary) school is from other students. But 80% of this student-provided feedback in incorrect!” Hattie was basing this on the research of G.A. Nuthill from 2007. Effective feedback is important but also complicated, and we need to make sure we do it correctly and teach students about it as well.

Ultimately, we will all get out of our Faculty Focus what we put into it.

In the End
As we go through these monumental educational changes together, it’s important that we focus on the positive side of it, and speak up about the negative side. We truly believe that the multiple measures portion of this, including our observations, have some definite benefits. Don’t get me wrong, many school leaders were having these productive and engaging professional conversations long before accountability hit us all, but we need to continue those conversations so that we can get something positive out of all of this.

Some school leaders like to plan out the whole year but I’m not sure if I agree with that. Our lives are so scripted and I worry about being too planned. I kind of like planning the first few and then taking in more teacher input. The hope is that they are inspired to come up with ideas for a faculty focus.

Unfortunately, there have been many times that we have not been treated like professionals but we don’t need to always let those outside influences and negativity impact who we are. A faculty focus will bring our collective thoughts together and hopefully, help us (teachers, students and administrators) become even better in our practices.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground 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.