Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

A School-Improvement Guidebook: Build Partnerships

By Maggie Norris — June 11, 2018 5 min read
To establish a culture of continuous improvement, teachers need the space to take risks

Editor’s note: In this special Commentary project, a team of educators from Byron Nelson High School in Texas—a principal, an assistant principal, two instructional coaches, and one teacher—offer their perspectives on the difficulties and benefits of implementing the continuous-improvement model. Read all of the essays in the series.

As an assistant principal, my role is largely about evaluating instruction, but my main objective is to always help our teachers grow in their profession and practice. At times, it can be challenging to balance both. I have discovered that building trust is the key to succeeding in this endeavor.

To establish a culture of continuous improvement, we first have to create an environment that both allows and encourages teachers to be vulnerable and take risks. It is important that the teachers I work with not see my presence at their professional-learning-community meetings as a threat, but rather one of support and encouragement.

Through collaborative effort, PLCs can bring out the best in teachers and, ultimately, our students.

For example, as our biology PLC planned for targeted tutorials to help students prepare for their upcoming state assessment, teachers explained that it was challenging to get certain students to attend, even when the tutorials were mandatory. I was able to provide them with ways in which our administrative team could offer support, and we successfully established a team approach to solving the problem.

Through collaborative effort, PLCs can bring out the best in teachers and, ultimately, our students."

Being a campus leader does not mean that I have all the answers, or that I must solely develop solutions to the challenges our campus and teachers face. In fact, such an approach would be ineffective and a waste of our teachers’ talents. As a former classroom teacher, I know what good instruction looks like, which helps me to be an effective campus leader, but I have to trust in the professionalism and expertise of our teachers.

As the educator and author Peter DeWitt observes, “When the leader’s voice is the only voice, we end up enabling teachers to wait for the right answer instead of empowering them to help find the best answer together.” My job is not to simply deliver directives to teachers for purposes of improvement, but rather to provide them with opportunities to learn from each other. In doing so, they can create instructional opportunities that will allow all students to thrive.

There are times, of course, when my managerial role means I must have critical conversations with my teachers or give directives. However, although I can say with all honesty that I work with an amazing group of teachers, I do believe that my collaborative relationship with my PLC team has significantly helped to make these occurrences few and far between.

Instead, I am able to use questioning techniques to prompt teachers to make these necessary changes.

As a result, the teachers I work with have evidently grown more reflective and developed a greater intrinsic motivation to strive for continual growth.

I recognize the need for differentiating feedback between teachers and even PLCs. Because I truly believe in their desire to be the kind of teacher their students deserve, I am always happy to work to meet teachers’ individual needs.

Unfortunately, my many responsibilities pull me in various directions, often preventing me from spending ample—even adequate—time with our teachers and their PLCs. Thankfully, our principal Ron Myers has provided us with the greatest resource to assist in our quest for continuous improvement: instructional coaches. Both of our instructional coaches play a major role in the growth and effectiveness of our professional learning communities and are able to provide teachers with guidance and support, all with absolutely no strings attached. Their role is never to evaluate teachers’ work, so the teachers can trust these coaches completely to help them work through areas of weakness in their practice. Through their consistent presence in both the PLCs and the classroom, the instructional coaches provide teachers with the chance to honestly embrace areas that require growth and build the tools needed for the hard work of continuous improvement. It all goes back to the relationship built upon trust.

For the past two years, I have had the privilege of working alongside our campus instructional coach, Diane Caldwell, whose area of expertise is science and math, as well as our English/language arts and social studies instructional coach, Sarah Menn. Diane, with whom I work the most closely, has been instrumental in helping the science PLCs develop into some of the highest functioning teams on our campus.

Our biology PLC, in particular, faces the constant challenges of an overcrowded curriculum and a state assessment that tries to dictate the instruction without consideration of the needs of the learners. The team members consistently plan targeted instruction using both formal data (assessment results) and informal data (observations of student learning behaviors), model best practices and teaching strategies for one another, and take an active approach to teaching. Their conversations demonstrate a great deal of critical, reflective, and purposeful thinking, which has resulted in improved student learning and a group of confident, highly effective teachers. While all of our science PLCs utilize many of these high-functioning PLC behaviors, the biology PLC has the additional challenge of the state assessment to deal with, which makes their work that much more important.

In my own relationship with our instructional coaches, it is essential that we respect each other’s role. I never require that a teacher seek out his or her instructional coach for assistance, but I do often recommend that teachers ask for help in certain endeavors. Diane and Sarah are able to quickly identify when certain matters are of an administrative nature, and either direct the teacher to me or let me know.

< Principal Perspective

A School Improvement Guidebook: Empower Teachers

Teacher Perspective >

A School Improvement Guidebook: Ask for Help

Coverage of continuous-improvement strategies in education is supported in part by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at www.gatesfoundation.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
A version of this article appeared in the June 13, 2018 edition of Education Week as A Team Approach to Problem-Solving

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn
Professional Development Webinar Expand Digital Learning by Expanding Teacher Training
This discussion will examine how things have changed and offer guidance on smart, cost-effective ways to expand digital learning efforts and train teachers to maximize the use of new technologies for learning.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion Leaders, Your Communication Plan Needs to Start With Your Staff
Staff members are the point of contact for thousands of interactions with the public each day. They can’t be the last to know of changes.
Gladys I. Cruz
2 min read
A staff meeting around a table.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images
School & District Management L.A. Unified to Require Testing of Students, Staff Regardless of Vaccination Status
The policy change in the nation's second-largest school district comes amid rising coronavirus cases, largely blamed on the Delta variant.
Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
4 min read
L.A. schools interim Sup Megan K. Reilly visits Fairfax High School's "Field Day" event to launch the Ready Set volunteer recruitment campaign to highlight the nationwide need for mentors and tutors, to prepare the country's public education students for the upcoming school year. The event coincides with National Summer Learning Week, where U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona is highlighting the importance of re-engaging students and building excitement around returning to in-person learning this fall. high school, with interim LAUSD superintendent and others. Fairfax High School on Wednesday, July 14, 2021 in Los Angeles, CA.
In this July 14, 2021, photo, Los Angeles Unified School District interim Superintendent Megan K. Reilly speaks at an event at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. Reilly announced a new district policy Thursday requiring all students and employees of the Los Angeles school district to take weekly coronavirus tests regardless of their vaccination status.
Al Seib/Los Angeles Times via TNS
School & District Management Why School Boards Are Now Hot Spots for Nasty Politics
Nationalized politics, shifts in local news coverage, and the rise of social media are turning school board meetings into slug fests.
11 min read
Collage of people yelling, praying, and masked in a board room.
Collage by Gina Tomko/Education Week and Getty Images
School & District Management Opinion The Six Leadership Lessons I Learned From the Pandemic
These guiding principles can help leaders prepare for another challenging year—and any future crises to come.
David Vroonland
3 min read
A hand about to touch a phone.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Getty Images