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AASA focuses on teamwork, collaboration

AASA attendees affirmed their commitment to helping deliver top-notch education to students.

Nothing makes people come together in good spirits like unexpected warm weather in a terribly cold season, and the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) took advantage of this by focusing on the importance of teamwork and collaboration during its 143rd annual Conference on Education in incredibly balmy Denver, Colo.

With sunny skies and a temperature of 55 degrees, attendees gathered at AASA’s opening session to discuss, among other things, how AASA’s mission statement has changed to reflect the modern superintendency.

Instead of focusing on professional development, which the organization says is still important, the statement now reads: The mission of [AASA] is to support and develop effective school system leaders who are dedicated to the highest quality public education for all children.”

“To support and develop system leaders, you have to emphasize that seeking better understanding of how we can all work together is the key to success,” said Ed Hatrick, president of AASA and superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools, Va.

Hatrick mentioned that clearly the U.S. Department of Education, and specifically Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, understand this with their recent Labor Management Collaboration Conference, held in Denver two days before the conference began.

Keynote speaker Michael Fullan, professor emeritus for the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, said a love of employees and building relationships are two components that, in his research and experience, have created the most influential leaders.

Fullan also gave attendees his “Six Secrets of Change”:

1.    Love your employees
2.    Connect peers with purpose
3.    Capacity building prevails
4.    Learning is the work
5.    Transparency rules
6.    Learn systems

“There are also three keys to becoming a great leader that have to do with actual implementation,” said Fullan, “and those are: focus on a small number of core priorities, attend to relationships, and go light on judgment.”

“It’s what I like to call ‘simplexity,’” continued Fullan. “The simple part is that there are a small number of things you have to get right, and the complex part is that you have to get them right in connection with people.”

Fullan also gave advice on what can be most detrimental to effective leadership.

“Don’t look too far in the future, especially with no strategy (that can withstand scrutiny) in place,” he explained.

This, said Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, is one of President Obama’s mistakes when dealing with pressing matters in education.

“We heard, and were led to believe, that very quickly after being elected Obama was going to completely revamp, if not nullify, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). But here we are, years later, and now not only are we still in talks about this, but we might be reducing some of the restrictions set.”

Domenech said AASA is frustrated with what he refers to as the four ‘N’s’:

1.    NCLB;
2.    No reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) imminent;
3.    No remuneration; and
4.    No money.

“There are ways to make sure this doesn’t happen,” said Fullan. “First, know your current stage of performance before you make goals for the future; then, compare this performance year to year, not in chunks, such as 2005 compared to 2011, but 2005 compared to 2006 to 2007 to 2008, etc.; and finally, have a concrete strategy, not just ideas, to get there.”

AASA hopes that with the conference, plus the recent labor management collaboration conference with Duncan, communication can improve between not only states and government, but between states and districts, districts and schools, and between administrators and teachers.

The session also revealed AASA’s 2011 National Superintendent of the Year: Marcus Johnson of Sanger Unified School District, Sanger, Calif. AASA also announced its “functional consolidation” with the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

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