November CLEE News - Bring Excitement and Energy to Your Practice

November 2023

Our collective power expands when we support each other to foster the unlimited potential of each and every student.

Focus on the Instructional Core to Move from “Concern” to “Influence”

With so much in a school leader’s realm of concern, (e.g., regulatory constraints, budgetary and resource limitations, safety, bureaucratic structures, and staff retention) how can one stay in their realm of influence?

At CLEE, we explore this question with our participants – current and aspiring leaders at the school and district level – because, as Stephen Covey’s work reminds us, the realm of influence is the place of proactive agency crucial for school leaders to transform schools. A lack of agency makes school leaders feel more like managers - addressing technical instead of adaptive challenges, and acting reactively rather than proactively.

What we have found is that when leaders focus their efforts on improving the three parts of what call the instructional core - teacher knowledge and skill, content rigor and relevance, and student engagement (City et al, 2009), we always see their realm of influence and agency to impact student learning expand. And with that, so does their excitement and energy for the work

Joe Pirraglia, Director of Principal Preparation Programs

At a recent Instructional Rounds visit as part of the Principal Residency Network curriculum, aspiring principals and CLEE staff were inspired by leaders from Nathanael Greene Middle School and Nuestro Mundo Public Charter School. Leaders enthusiastically shared their vision, theory of action, and next steps to support all students. The common thread? Their work was all laser-focused on improving components of the instructional core. For example, they are working on the implementation of school-wide writing strategies, prioritizing school and classroom routines and procedures to maximize instructional time, creating a classroom culture that emphasizes student engagement and academic risk taking, and strategically allocating resources to support school-wide goals that focus on improving outcomes for all students.

The leaders’ energy and excitement for the work was notable during the instructional rounds. Leaders were expanding their realm of influence, as well as their colleagues, by grounding improvements in the instructional core. School leaders are presented with many challenges that can feel overwhelming, but as this experience exemplifies, leaders can strategically address the challenges by focusing on where they have the most important influence. This intentional focus not only has implications on supporting student outcomes, but also on the level of engagement with the work. Influence and agency leads to excitement and energy.

Facilitative Leadership - Shifting from Expert to Coach

Learning from the Equity Leader Accelerator Program (ELAP)

The coaching aspect of my work is one of the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of the job. As coaches, we focus the majority of our time building the Core Leadership Practices and facilitation skills needed of equity leaders. We then support them in applying their newly-acquired skills from theory into practice. When participants independently make connections between the learning and their own leadership practices we call them ‘ah-ha’ moments. For both the participant and the coach, these ‘ah-ha’ moments are incredibly powerful, especially when they center around equity issues.

Recently a participant was grappling with the complex challenge of figuring out how to effectively engage in an equity-focused discussion with her staff. As an emerging equity leader she was at the early stages of making sense of our work together, and learning how to identify inequities within her own school. Her struggle is one that many school leaders grapple with when first engaging in equity-focused work; they are unsure how to navigate the complexities associated with leading the work.

During our early sessions she recognized that centering herself as the sole voice highlighting equity issues might push her staff into their danger zones. I challenged her to consider taking a more facilitative leadership approach with the work and allow staff to independently make meaning of the data and causes of the inequities. She expressed discomfort, highlighting concerns about the urgency to take action, time constraints for staff to complete work of this nature, and how to keep the conversation productive and focused on students. 

Todd Simendinger, Continuous Improvement Facilitator and Coach

“Ah-ha” moments frequently occur at the most unexpected times, and this case is no exception. To strengthen her facilitative leadership skills, we engaged in the Atlas protocol, a protocol designed to support participants to make sense of data and identify implications for practice. The objective for our session was to analyze disaggregated MCAS data to identify potential inequities. In the midst of our discussion about the data it suddenly clicked for her. She excitedly asked “what if instead of me presenting the data to staff with my interpretations, I give them the data and have them make meaning of it using the protocol”? ‘Ah-ha’ moment unlocked! All of the concerns she voiced earlier suddenly disappeared because she understood – as a participant – the power of facilitative leadership and the benefits of providing staff structured processes to engage in their own meaning making. 

A few weeks later she facilitated a professional development session which utilized the Atlas protocol to make sense of data and discuss potential root causes for the inequities they identified. Observing her lead the session served as an important reminder that the combination of a facilitative leadership approach and the use of protocols are a powerful combination when leading equity work. As she put it “independent discovery and reflection facilitates a depth of understanding and an urgency to address equity issues that would otherwise be impossible to achieve using traditional leadership approaches.” That was my coaching ‘ah-ha’ moment for the day!

Educators talk throughout our days. We have conversations with colleagues, families, students, and administrators. We talk about assignments, state testing, student successes, school challenges, and schedules. Through these conversations we find support and generate ideas for tackling professional dilemmas and problems. We find a lot of grace, intelligence, and care, and yet it’s hard for us to turn these discussions into structural changes within our schools.

In their article, “Learning Conversations: Turn Reflection Into a Public Dialogue on Practice,” Diane P. Zimmerman and William A. Sommers describe a framework for shifting from discussions to reflective discourse. They describe discussions as giving participants the opportunity to share opinions, give advice, or tell their stories and juxtapose these with reflective conversations that create a dialogue that can increase general, collective knowledge and support organizational growth.

A reflective conversation creates a space for collective thinking and inquiry so that participants can develop understanding of each other’s thinking and learn from each other. Reflective conversations are characterized by a process that allows for: slowing down; listening; thinking; summarizing; and inquiring. They provide a holding space for participants to think collectively about a dilemma or question and then use that thinking to add to the collective knowledge base about teaching and learning 

Julia Hendrix, Continuous Improvement Facilitator and Coach

Zimmerman and Sommers outline a continuum of professional conversations ranging from open-ended, primarily reflective conversations to more directive conversations. They provide specific examples of conversations at each point on the continuum. These conversations can be used in different formulations to meet team needs and are about shifting behaviors and adding to collective knowledge.

What excites me is that we can learn to shift our school-based conversations from discussion that supports and addresses specific issues into dialogue that adds collective knowledge and creates avenues for change. By understanding types of professional conversations, we can learn strategies for discourse that add to our collective professional knowledge and increase organizational capacity to address issues of equity in student learning.

Shared Leadership can Share the Load - Transformational Leadership Coaching  

Leaders in education feel the weight of their responsibility to their teams and students. This weight can feel like it is theirs alone to carry and can impact their practice and decisions. What if leaders could have partners in this burden of leadership?

I see this often as a coach in CLEE’s Transformational Leadership program. One example: A leader that led their district's curriculum implementation team was both a participant and facilitator in the meetings. It mattered to her that she was able to provide clarity and create the space for the team to feel good about the work, all while engaging in the process authentically. As part of my coaching, I observed her take all this on.

Afterward, I challenged her to think about why she felt she needed to wear all of those hats. Reflecting on her “why”, she connected it to feeling anxious when preparing to lead these meetings. She realized she was both owning all of the work herself and not building others' capacity. She was being too helpful. She then determined how she could build others' capacity to lead within the sessions and also thought of ways to help them take ownership of the work.

Janelle Clarke-Holley, Director, Executive Leadership Programs

This shift to sharing leadership and building capacity in team members impacted the work and capacity of the entire team. I saw a weight lift from her. Now she is excited to continue the work. Moments like this matter because leading for equity requires shared leadership and ownership of continuous improvement.

Transformational Leadership Coaching is a partnership to help leaders build-up their teams. Observations and feedback identify areas of need and ways to strengthen leadership. We help leaders build their own capacity to facilitate meetings and teams effectively and provide strategic support for critical and systemic dilemmas.

Each month, CLEE offers a question or two to help you reflect on what you are experiencing. Thinking about the importance of questioning and what your answers mean is one more step in your growth as a leader for equity.

Join CLEE on social media to follow the monthly questions and share your answers.

What opportunities can you create to share leadership more in your setting?

The Resource book is back! 

The Resource Book is a selection of protocols curated into a spiral-bound book and organized into sections, ideal for both new and experienced practitioners who want easy access to our most popular tools.