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What I learned about leadership development in 2018

An assistant superintendent shares his most powerful lessons, from the power of diversity to the importance of having leaders model new technology

At Colonial (DE) School District, we’ve been focused on retaining teachers through various leadership development and empowerment programs for a few years. As the programs have matured, we’ve learned plenty about empowering our best educators this year. In addition to our existing leadership development programs, we’ve also launched a non-evaluative teacher observation and mentorship program. As is to be expected with a new initiative, there’s been no end of lessons learned as we began putting the program into place. Here are four of them.

1. Attack big challenges from multiple angles.
In 2017, our district submitted a successful i3 grant application. As a result of that work, we’ve learned that we need to drill down on particular aspects of recruitment and retention.

To that end, in consultation with Insight Education Group, we’ve pulled together multiple teams to work on different elements of the grant in various areas of leadership. We have a team focused on our teacher leadership and aspiring leaders through the Supporting Teacher Effectiveness Project (STEP). We have a group that developed a strategic recruitment plan, something that we hadn’t done in the past.

We have another team focused on retaining teachers in years three and four through a program called the Colonial Educator Institute (CEI). Finally, we have spent significant time working with our instructional leadership teams on developing their instructional leadership skills through their weekly meetings and newly designed school success plans.

2. Put diverse perspectives to work.
One interesting lesson that’s arisen from the creation of those different groups is the power of diversity. Because we have a diverse group of people in these groups, they’ve brought different and interesting ideas and perspectives to the forefront. This has pushed all of us to adjust our thinking. Tapping into their different strengths has been valuable in terms of thinking about who’s going to lead work in various areas.

Similarly, we’ve discovered strength in the diversity of the educators working on our leadership framework. We have a group of experienced school leaders at the district office, some of whom are fresh out of working in school buildings. Those individuals may be newer to district leadership but provide a strong perspective on what it’s like to be a building leader in 2018.

3. When adopting new technology, have leaders lead the way.
In a few of our projects, we are using video to support leadership development. We’re not quite at the teacher-observation level with this technology in all areas yet, but hope to be soon. To begin, we’ve taken a step back in other areas to focus on training our school leaders to use the observation tools from Insight ADVANCE as a platform for coaching school leaders, including administrators and teacher leaders.

Our principals, assistant principals, and instructional coaches are beginning to capture video of their feedback sessions with the teachers they coach. The goal is to provide administrators enough practice to master the art of delivering actionable feedback. Additionally, we ask our administrators to submit videos and reflections of their facilitation from their instructional leadership team meetings—again with the focus on improving their leadership skills.

In STEP, we ask facilitators to use the video platform to record their conversations and then reflect on their facilitation skills and receive feedback from our lead teacher for STEP. Because of this, some teachers have begun sharing practices by using video reflection.

With leaders and coaches using the technology first to improve ourselves professionally via self-reflection and peer feedback, we believe that teachers will see greater value in it, while also understanding that it is designed to facilitate coaching, and not an evaluative tool.

4. Empower peers to coach each other.
At this early stage of our observation program, one of the things that teachers have asked for, especially in positions like music, is peer coaching from other teachers with content expertise.

A few weeks ago, a music teacher expressed interest in providing feedback to other music teachers in the district. That’s fantastic, but there’s a huge cost to that unless we can figure out an efficient way to have qualified teachers observe the classes. So now we’re considering allowing music teachers to opt into a process in which they would submit their video to get feedback from a peer who works in another building but has been trained in our model of delivering feedback.

Looking to the future
I have no doubt next year will bring its own unexpected lessons. Heading into 2019, I’m looking forward to learning more about how we can provide our aspiring leaders with the tools and experience they need to be successful in their entry-level roles. Also, how can we continue to grow our assistant principals—whether they’ve been in their positions for 10 years or 10 weeks? Finally, how can we best differentiate our support so they can grow in the areas they need it most? I’m eager to learn how it will play out over the next five to 10 years.

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