“There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy, and civilization through out the world-one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government. The most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love. On the other hand, if developed and leveraged, that one thing has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. Yet, it is the least understood, most neglected, and most underestimated possibility of our time. That one thing is TRUST.”
M. R. Covey, 2006
Several weeks ago at a staff meeting I invited teachers to discuss effective instruction. I borrowed the idea from Tony Wagner. In the book Change Leadership, he discusses making teaching and learning transparent by openly discussing and agreeing upon what it looks like and sounds like. The teachers worked together and charted what effective reading and math instruction was. Energy was high; there was a buzz in the room. They were discussing and explaining the art and science of their teaching and articulating the impact on student learning.
Some teachers were leaning in, straining to hear as though teaching were a secret. Others were sketching diagrams on post it notes trying to explain how their behavior or a strategy impacted student learning. Still others sat listening intently to their peers describing successful lessons.
Our starting point for Effective Instruction includes: 100% engagement, ongoing, formative assessment, essential questions and student friendly objectives, setting high worthwhile goals based on student needs, provide opportunities for students to question and to explain their thinking and reasoning, direct vocabulary instruction, kinesthetic learning and movement for key vocabulary words, use and expose students to non-fiction and informational text, print rich environments with reading and math focus walls, math and reading stations, writing opportunities embedded in math and reading, teacher and student modeling and think aloud opportunities, purposeful whole group and small group instruction, targeted, fluid intervention groups, and integration of technology.
It was clear that the teachers trusted one another and felt safe sharing their teaching and learning experiences. It was magical to watch as teachers pushed and stretched their thinking. The conversations were deep and rich, teachers questioning misunderstandings and deepening their understanding.
Then I invited teacher to discuss effective administration. We worked through a similar activity where teachers discussed what effective principals do. However, at this point, the energy was lost, the buzz faded and a hush fell over the room. It was clear there was distrust. I had not expected this. I was naïve to think that teachers would just take me at my word and trust me. I want to be a great principal. Just like teaching I wanted to make administration transparent. Days went by and I finally found the courage to read through and type out the list.
As I read through, one thing became very clear – if I am to gain the teacher’s trust I need to commit to the characteristics of an Effective Administrator: on-going, proactive, clear, consistent communication, respond to emails, notes, and phones calls promptly, always remember what it was like to be a teacher in the classroom, visit classrooms without a clipboard, interact with kids, trust your staff and be honest, be professional and positive, share ideas and be open to new ideas, share decision making, know and understand your staff, students and parents, know the school history and culture, provide on-going, meaningful, positive feedback, be approachable and personable, tactful and discreet, patient, respectful and mindful of time, use a calm tone, have an open door policy, sense of humor, flexible, make judgments based on facts not emotion, treat everyone fairly, support all teachers, staff, parents and students in learning and growing, be visible on campus (mentally and physically), be an ally in education and advocate for our school, build team relationships, delegate responsibilities, make students and staff feel valued and appreciated, and work with and create on-going contact with parents, and communicate discipline actions with teachers.
“A substantial barrier is the lack of trust among educators and poor quality relationships that exist in many schools, particularly those most challenged by poverty and social problems. Consequently, it is critical that leaders of learning communities make the establishment of high quality relationships and trust a high priority.” Dennis Sparks