Professional Development Opinion

Leaders and Teachers: Let’s Build an Agenda of Focus Together

By Starr Sackstein — April 17, 2018 2 min read
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“This year we will be looking at data. You will collect data in your classes and then use that data to align curriculum. You will also start using a standards-based assessment system to better align with student learning. I expect to see you doing this as early as possible.”

There is absolutely nothing worse as a teacher than having an initiative be thrust upon you with little transparency, support or time. Too often, administrators make important instructional decisions for teachers without their input and without their expertise. Sometimes, despite their initiatives or ideas being good, they aren’t successful because there is no time allotted for implementation or for really getting a pulse of what teachers think or feel.

As an educator, this happened TO ME often—and early in my career, I did things like this to my students as well.

In the classroom, I started to shift my perspective as the learning was about my students so their voices were essential to my decision making. Now as a new leader, I must practice the same philosophy (although I can appreciate now that it isn’t always as easy as it seems).

So to combat that frustration and the ultimate potential for failure in important initiatives, I’m hoping to elicit the help of my team to develop our agenda for next year, focusing on two areas that they feel matter the most in terms of what our students need.

Throughout the year, I have presented many different topics at our department meetings and have been taking their feedback all along the way to determine the best course of action as we went. Last time we met we started building vertical articulation in each of the content areas 6-12, and this time around we will be working as grade level teams to dig deeper into that work, find gaps and overlaps, and build a more cohesive and aligned focus together.

For our last meeting, I set up a survey to get feedback about the topics that matter most to the team. I will select the two that got the highest ratings for next year, and our last meeting of the year will be about setting the agenda together, after reflecting on how this year went.

Their thoughts and feedback will directly result in our focus for next year. Although in my head I have ideas about a five-year plan, I’m more eager to start work on the areas they are most interested in as they will ultimately support a more successful five-year plan.

As a new leader, I have tried hard to really listen to my team, not assert my beliefs or wants as right just because I’m within my authority to do so. I’ve also been fortunate enough to read some amazing leadership books, most recently Change Leader by Michael Fullan and The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, as well as many others from my leadership program. This has really crystalized my thoughts and feelings about how to be a collaborative leader.

The work of school leadership, like the work of classroom educators, is nuanced and more complicated than it seems from the outside. I can truly appreciate that now from both sides. I have so much respect for the people I work with—my leadership team as well as my departmental team—as I have learned so much from all of them this year. It’s only upward from here and I suspect, I will spend a good amount of time reflecting and trying to prepare better for next year.

How do you build your initiative agendas? Where do you put the priority? Please share.

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