Friendswood (Texas) ISD is passionate about and committed to immersing everyone in the district in Learning Forward’s Standards for Professional Learning. That’s why we joined with other districts in the county to participate in Galveston County Learning Leaders. We established as our problem of practice to create a districtwide plan of action to ensure all leaders and schools are engaged in effective professional learning.
For a while, we used what Galveston County Learning Leaders shared with us in a fairly mechanical way. If, in the larger group, we practiced a process for understanding the Standards for Professional Learning, we would do that with our staff. We added our own personalities, but we did what we were taught.
As we learned more, we were able to share with others in a much deeper way. We modeled and generated ideas that engaged the entire administrative team in deepening its understanding. As we moved on into the best ways to implement the standards at our schools, we became more challenged and inspired to develop deeper understanding.
We asked ourselves these questions:
- How do we help our district leadership team become a learning community?
- How do help schools become learning systems?
- How do we help all move into these communities in meaningful and authentic ways -- not just superficial understanding and shallow implementation?
Now we were really challenged. As we worked through these challenges, our path was occasionally unclear, and sometimes we became discouraged. We often struggled with what our next steps might be.
Along the way, we learned about:
- The social aspect of learning;
- The power of collaborative leadership;
- The power of the goal;
- The significance of coaching; and
- The importance of celebrating progress.
The social aspect of learning
Working with our principals, we realized the importance of the social aspects, norms, outcomes, collaboration, and clear vision around our work together. Accepting that we all have some fear of change led us to realize that we needed to develop our leadership skills to implement the change. People are in many different places in their careers and their interest in changing their practices. Our goal is to help them understand the “why” and the need for everyone to engage.
The power of collaborative leadership
Though we struggle to get through the work, we persist to achieve our goal. We often question our decisions and review our work. Sometimes it felt like we did not know where we were going or what we were doing. When we were with our partner districts and learning new strategies, we often felt we were clear. Then when we got back to the district, we would ask, “What are we to do?” We felt the nature of recursive learning and the challenges of not giving up or becoming overwhelmed.
The power of the goal
Though we struggle with how best to proceed, we have not lost sight of our goal. We value what we are trying to accomplish together and are compelled to achieve our vision. We know the road can be challenging. Until now, we haven’t understood the power of the cycle of continuous improvement and, even today, are struggling to figure out implementation strategies that best match the needs of our staff.
When we started, we envisioned a document that detailed the professional development required of everyone. Now our vision is daily, standards-driven professional learning communities. As we have become clearer about what constitutes effective professional learning, we are committed to a totally different vision. We want to be sure all our schools are in authentic learning communities.
We are now asking our board for more time for professional learning. We are supporting that request with all the research we have discovered about the power of professional learning on student learning.
The significance of coaching
As our superintendent, Trish Hanks, said, “We would not have accomplished half of what we have accomplished without our coaches, who comes to our district and support us as we plan our journey. It is not that we could not have done it, but there is a lot of comfort in knowing we are headed in the right direction.”
The importance of celebrating progress
We have made great strides at our high school working on student growth performance with our math and English specialists. We decided on a problem of practice, researched data, and are establishing learning designs to best meet teacher needs when communicating and collaborating.
There is a lot to celebrate, and we will set aside time to do just that.
Nancy Lockhart (email@example.com) is associate principal of Friendswood High School. Diane Myers (firstname.lastname@example.org) is assistant superintendent of secondary curriculum & instruction. Lynn Hobratschk (email@example.com) is assistant superintendent of elementary curriculum & instruction. Tonia Meadows (firstname.lastname@example.org) is instructional technology director of innovative learning. Tammy Bock (email@example.com) is associate principal of Friendswood Junior High. Trish Hanks (firstname.lastname@example.org) is superintendent of Friendswood ISD. Stacy Daugherty (email@example.com) is executive director of accountability, testing, and research.
The Galveston County Learning Leaders is a three-year initiative funded by a grant from Houston Endowment to Learning Forward. The goal of the project is to improve professional learning and leadership across the county by supporting Galveston County superintendents, their leadership teams, and selected principals in a community of practice and professional learning seminars.
The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch 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.