School & District Management Letter to the Editor

Adults Help Make Up ‘Turnaround’ Equation

April 02, 2013 1 min read

To the Editor:

In the March 6, 2013, issue, the article “Principals Lack Training in Shaping School Climate” makes this point about building school climate: “Principals need more training—not just on data and academics—but also on how to build relationships and support for learning among staff and students.”

I agree. Yet, building productive relationships and supporting learning among educators and students must take into account how principals—indeed, all adults in schools—learn, how they make sense of the world, and how they depend on the support of other adults to grow, develop, and lead. Without an explicit understanding of adult development—what it is, how it is enabled, how it is constrained—what passes for leadership development will more likely amount to mere leadership training.

Highly effective school leaders understand the importance of creating a school culture that values both individual and collaborative learning supported by a positive school climate. Focused on adult learning within their organizations as much as they are focused on student learning, these leaders understand how adults learn, how to support them in their current ways of knowing, and how to stretch them with appropriate supports to grow.

As the school turnaround movement takes hold in our schools, understanding adult development and using that knowledge to design and deliver training to principals on establishing a school culture supported by a positive school climate becomes critical.

There was a time when teachers and principals were treated as if they all made sense of their world in the same way. That theory worked in the first half of the 20th century, but is woefully inadequate now.

Research is clear that adults have different ways of knowing. Adults as learners need differentiated supports, challenges, and opportunities. When schools support learning for adults and students alike, they will have genuinely “turned around.”

Deanna Burney

Chief Learning Officer

Leading by Learning

Haddonfield, N.J.

The writer has also been an elementary, middle, and high school principal, an assistant superintendent, and the leader of a charter school district. She currently consults with the National Institute for School Leadership and other organizations.

A version of this article appeared in the April 03, 2013 edition of Education Week as Adults Help Make Up ‘Turnaround’ Equation


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