Monday, November 4, 2019

Schooling by Design, Chapter 7: What Is the Job of an Academic Leader?

The Leadership team at Cheongna Dalton School has taken on the task of reading Schooling by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. I have decided to track my reading of the book with my blog, so there will be several upcoming posts about this book and my reflections on the chapters we are reading together. Chapter 7 openings with a quotation from Jim Collins author of Good to Great and the Social Sectors, "Leadership is not about being nice or soft or purely "inclusive" or "consensus-building." The whole point is to make sure the right decisions happen -- no matter how difficult or painful -- for the long-term greatness of the institution and the achievement of its mission." It seems like making decisions based on the school's mission should go without saying, but over my years in education I have seen decisions made by leadership that didn't reflect the mission of the school and/or tried to avoid difficult or painful situations. Isn't the old saying "you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs?" It is true -- by focusing on the mission and making decisions on it, you will rub some people the wrong way; but, I would argue, that is the job of leadership in a nutshell.

The next part that really stuck out at me was the essential question of leadership, "What does "mission accomplished" require of me as a leader and us as a school?" We really do have to define what the mission of the school is and how we will reach it, but also the me part is fundamental and I feel this is the spot where most of us fall down. The thinking deeply of what the mission requires of me as a leader is very important. Without that clearly in your head, the mission of the school can be difficult to accomplish, because those difficult and painful decisions will be easily avoided.

The rest of Chapter 7 is broken into the six job functions of the academic leader.

Job Function 1: Responsibilities Related to Mission and Learning Principles

  • The function deals with guiding the community in craft a clear mission, but also on the process of continually exploring the meaning and implications of the mission statement. It is very easy to craft a mission statement, but it is very difficult to design a process where the community continues to redefine the mission. I've seen several institutions where the mission statement was written in past years, but the members of the community have changed as well as the environment and world, but the mission statement is still the same as it was years before. For there to be real ownership of a mission statement, the institution (and its members) need to be continually wrestling with the mission. Forever exploring what it means to all stakeholders. This struggle allows for a communal ownership.

Job Function 2: Responsibilities Related to Curriculum

  • Key to this function are unpacking standards and facilitating curriculum reviews and troubleshooting. In order to achieve this responsibility, leaders must develop processes and protocols for critical feedback on unit and lesson design. Departments and grade levels teams need to unpack standards together so there is a team understanding of what the standards and transfer skills mean. Curriculum reviews must be candidate and professional so proper adjustments can be made to facilitate learning. This work requires time built into the schedule. As I often state to colleagues, if you aren't building time in the schedule for it, the subtle message is that it really doesn't matter.

Job Function 3: Responsibilities Related to Results (Gap Analysis)

  • This is all about making feedback central to reform. Feedback must be gathered and the brutal facts dealt with as a method to grow and learn. Feedback should be gather and analyzed like any other data (but outliers should be considered just that -- outliers). 

Job Function 4: Responsibilities Related to Personnel

  • "... providing the necessary training, supervision, and evaluation guided by mission-related and results-focused criteria." Sums up this responsibility in my mind with regard to the people you currently have on the bus, but more importantly is the concept of "...getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats." Which, as any school leader will tell you, is much easier said than done. Hiring teachers that match the mission is incredibly important, but all too often I see leaders simply hiring people without regard to the mission of the school. The first part I mentioned from this section, providing professional development is near and dear to me. I have always continued to learn and this section talks about the importance of that as a school. "The why behind the activity is twofold: first, our mission/vision calls for us to be "continuous learners" and embrace "shared values." Secondly,... it is essential that we find our "voice" with regard to how we view our job." The end of this section points out the work of Kim Marshall in effective evaluation of teachers through his book Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation. I book our leadership team already read. :-)

Job Function 5: Responsibilities Related to Structure, Policies, and Resources

  • "... when the appropriate structures are in place, the school's success or direction no longer depends upon personalities." Here is where I will probably rub some people the wrong way... You have been warned! The cult of personality that occurs in schools is tiring for teachers. A new administrator shows up, he/she starts five or six new initiatives over the course of three or four years and then he/she leaves to a new school. The mark of a great administrator is not the number of initiatives you start, it is the number that remain once you leave, because those became part of the culture. With that in mind, here are some new rules to follow: First rule, if you are starting a new initiative, it needs to be related to the mission of the school. Second rule, if you are starting a new initiative, you need to remove an old one. Teachers cannot do EVERYTHING, so stop trying to make them to pad your CV. This isn't about you; it is about students, teachers, parents, and the school. Please check your ego at the door. The most valuable school resource is time; please use it wisely.

Job Function 6: Responsibilities Related to Culture

  • Two quotations from this section really make the point. First: "The academic leader's job is to ensure that the culture of the school is mission focused." Second: "The leader's job is not to pose solutions but to raise questions and demand thoughtful analysis of problems, leading to solutions "owned" by all parties affected.

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