Professional Development Opinion

Measuring Successes as a New School Leader, One Experience at a Time

By Starr Sackstein — November 02, 2017 4 min read
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Baby steps.

I know, I know, it’s cliche, but it’s true.

To make any change, to build any relationship, you have to go slowly.

Unfortunately, going slowly is usually very hard for me and not the usual kind of hard, like almost painful hard. The expectations I set for myself are often far out of the stratosphere and when I can’t meet them, it can often be defeating.

Now I know that this isn’t a productive way to think and intellectually, I understand not to have these expectations of others, but with myself I struggle.

However, in the last week alone, I have been able to see some visible progress that has made a lot of my challenging choices worthwhile.

First, a social studies teacher on our team agreed to let me help him and his co-teacher plan a project to try out project-based learning. We have been having conversations and now we have a date scheduled to sit down and plan. I know he wants to do it around the Civil War, so I put out a call to my PLN on Twitter for ideas and I started doing some research so that I can bring some ideas to the table.

Of course, I’m more eager to hear what their ideas are and how I can help them design a project that would incorporate choice and rigor, probably technology and even have them set the success criteria aligned with the standards.

Building on that exciting turn of events, I’ve noticed several of the teachers on our district team joining into some weekly Twitter chats and on #ecet2 when we discussed project-based learning, one of the Spanish teachers grew interested in student-designed rubrics.

As I was walking through the middle school hallways, I noticed her sitting on duty and I shared how excited I was to see her on Twitter and that I love the ideas she has been sharing. It was then that she asked if I could help her design a lesson to get students to design the rubrics.

Over the moon is an understatement for how I felt. She made my day.

So we made a plan for her and I as well as another World Languages teacher to plan a lesson to help students design the success criteria for the upcoming project. Next week, we will sit down and they will share their project. I’ve already provided them with a few resources that will help them wrap their brains around the concept and also have a few models for what it could look like.

Even more exciting is the fact that I will also come in to help co-teach the lesson on the day it is rolled out and participate throughout the process.

This is exactly what I have been waiting for; the breakthrough of teachers not just telling me they liked an idea I had, but actually inviting me in to help and then, even better, participate.

This is one measure of success about the dynamic of relationship-building I have been working on. Teachers aren’t afraid to have me in their room or even anxious about it. They see me as an ally that can help them improve student learning, gradually letting go of control and putting the students in charge.

When I took this job as a school leader, this is how I imagined it going. Real collaboration with teachers, getting to know students and helping more kids achieve success in multiple areas.

And it’s happening.

This week, I also had the pleasure of being invited in to watch an excellent research lesson in a 7th grade social studies class that taught kids about the necessity of validating the information they find online. Eager to learn and participate, I got to sit with Grace who willingly shared her chromebook with me and explained what was going on as we went.

Grace is the first student I’ve had the chance to get to know a little. When the bell rang, I was getting up to leave and Grace asked, “Are you going to come back tomorrow?” I wish I could have said yes, but I introduced myself and I thanked her for sharing her learning time with me. I’ll be certain to visit with Grace and her classmates again soon.

The social studies teacher, whose class I was watching has also been so amazing to work with. He has great ideas and I’ve been working hard to make sure to support as much of them as possible.

The bottom line is when you have good people, who are willing to take risks, you have to support them and hope that word spreads.

Lastly, I sent out an email reminding staff that I’m always available to come visit if they want to share something awesome happening in their spaces and another high school social studies teacher invited me in to watch some student presentations about campaign platforms. I’m heading there soon.

These events this week have been the moments that helped me see that change is happening. The relationships are being built and folks are seeing the possibilities. I’m still working to stop saying things like, “when I was in the classroom...” and just listen to teachers and help them find what works for when they are in the classroom with our kids.

What successes have you had this week that has made it all worth while? Please share

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