I attended a professional learning session last week given by Sean Cain. I’ve attended his leadership trainings for a full year in my previous district, so I am familiar with this philosophy of education. He made a statement at this training that has stuck with me all week. Sean Cain said, “I cannot protect you from the pain of best practices.”
I took his point to mean that if you are not already following best practices, it is going to be painful to implement them now. In the state of Texas, our appraisal system will soon include a student growth measure (SLO). Much of the SLO is based on best practices. If you are already following best practices, this addition to the appraisal system will be easy…. You are already doing what you should be doing. If you are not following best practices, implementation of the SLO is going to be quite painful, but oh so necessary.
What best practices should you be following? Here are a few:
Instruction doesn’t just happen. The most effective classroom instruction comes after thoughtful planning. Lessons should be aligned to your state standards. Lessons should be based on your district’s Scope & Sequence. Lessons should include activities that engage students.
Tracking Student Progress
Tracking student progress tells you whether your planned lesson and delivery of the lesson was effective. Campuses must have a way to track where their students began and their progress throughout the year (in small increments). We can no longer just give tests, assign a grade, and continue teaching. Tracking student progress is the number one indicator of the effectiveness of instruction.
After you have the data from tracking student progress, discussions must be had to figure out what worked and what did not work. Data discussions determine what gaps need to be filled. Data discussions tell us whether we are on the right track or not.
Reflection & Altering of Instructional Practices
After reviewing the data and having conversations about instruction, teachers must reflect on their performance. Teachers must identify what major or minor tweaks must be made in the classroom instruction to better reach the students.
How do you implement these best practices on your campus?
There is so much to focus on as a principal. You have student learning, staff effectiveness, school finances, parent/community relations. They are all important and poor performance in any of those areas could be detrimental. So, what is the single most important thing to focus on at the beginning of the school year? Classroom Management!
Classroom management is the foundation for any classroom in any type of school (early childhood, elementary, middle, or high school). A teacher could have the best lesson planned with a great knowledge of the content, but if classroom management is not in place, the students won’t be able to focus on the lesson to learn the material.
Principals should make sure lots of procedures are in place in classrooms on their campus. Below are guiding questions to ask yourself while visiting classrooms.
You must know what effective classroom management looks like and know how to identify those teachers who need help. Identify those teachers quickly and begin working with them because student learning will suffer greatly if management is not in place.
How do you monitor classroom management on your campuses?
I would describe my educational leadership style as one that is mainly focused on educating each child that has been placed on my campus. Right now… post-Harvey… my leadership would change drastically. Harvey caused such devastation and was such a traumatic event, that for this time right now, “education” must take a back seat.
Instead of focusing on lesson frames on the board; instead of focusing on lesson plans; instead of focusing on scope and sequence; instead of focusing on state assessment preparation, we must focus on our babies. Today, I watched several news stories, from Good Morning America, to our local news broadcasts students from my district recount what happened to them after floodwaters rose quickly and fiercely. I watched most of our students recount their experience with tears in their eyes and sometimes tears flowing down their young faces.
Our students are not returning to us with clear minds ready to learn. Our students are not returning to us well-rested and ready to focus on learning. Some of our students are returning to us hungry, homeless, and in some cases, hopeless. This is not the time to focus on “teaching lessons”; it is the time to teach our students about moral citizenship. It’s the time to show human emotions. It’s the time to show them support. It’s the time to show them that we truly care about them.
When students return, let’s put aside the state-mandated curricular lessons and let our hearts lead us. Hug your students. Greet them with a smile. Start out slow for the first couple of weeks and play games that are simply fun. Give them a break from their crying, frustrated, and stressed parents. Give them time, while in our buildings, to feel safe; to know they will be fed two meals; to know that they will be able to smile and laugh; to know that they can forget, for just a few hours, that they don’t have a home anymore. Give them time to just be kids.
The time will come to pick the curriculum back up and go after it with full force, but if we don’t give them time to heal, I’m afraid we will do them more harm. Let’s lead from our heart right now.
After a very long week of Hurricane Harvey ripping through Southeast Texas, it is time for educators to return to work. Many are referring to this time as getting back to normal. Unfortunately, for thousands of people in the Houston area, what they knew as normal is no longer their normal. I watched on TV how families in my school district were being rescued well into the night. Families with babies and young children walked for miles in raging floodwaters, praying they would find safety. As I watched, I kept thinking… these are our kids. How do we accept them back to school and “do school”?
In the past couple of days, my mind went to our staff members, many of whom live in the area and experienced the same desperation as our children. How do they, after losing their homes, return to work and be the support our students need?
If I were Principal, this is what I would do on the first day back with faculty and staff.
Step 1: Focus on Gratefulness
I would tell my faculty and staff that first and foremost, I am grateful that our district did not lose any staff members to the floods. Not one staff member lost their life in the horrific flooding. Many lost homes, many lost cars… but not one life was lost.
I would then have staff, in their small group by grade level, discuss their individual gratefulness. For what are you grateful? Do you have your life? Did your family members survive? Have people come to your aid if you suffered losses during this time?
After they discuss this as a small group, I would ask them to share out.
Each of us had different experiences. We have been through a very difficult time, but we have also experienced some blessings in the storm. We must focus on the blessings, for the blessings give us hope. We must believe there is hope (for us and our students) in order to be the strength our students need when they return.
Know that we are family. We will help each other get through this. We are much stronger together.
Step 2: The Great Commission
I now challenge you all to think about why you entered the field of education. Why did you decide to teach?
Give them 10 minutes to reflect and write their thoughts down on paper.
Ask staff members to share out and then discuss as a group.
Most people decide to enter education because they want to make a difference in the world. They want to impact our world. They want to better our future. There is no time better than this to answer the call. In a couple of weeks, we are going to welcome back children who are scared, children who remember riding the backs of their parents in the cold and raging waters, children who may have had thoughts of dying in the floods. How you respond to them will most definitely shape their future.
I challenge each of us, to dig deep within ourselves to count our blessings and deep dig within ourselves to fulfill our purpose right now by being the strength and support our students need; for it will define how they respond to this great challenge in their lives.
Paula Patterson is a former principal who shares practical points on the principalship.