One of my favorite poems is Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken. At the end of the poem, Frost says, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” As an educator for many years, I have learned from experience that if we are going to be leaders of change two things are important. The first is to be a learning leader. The second is to be a risk-taker and take the road less traveled. I have tried to be both throughout my professional career. I thought it might be helpful to others if I shared how I have approached both.
As a learning leader, I am constantly learning from others. I read books from authors who are both researchers and practitioners since I value the perspectives of both. I participate in social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram as a strategy to diversify my professional learning network. I also present and attend professional conferences where I can share my work and receive feedback from other educators as well as learn from national experts. I also accept opportunities from professional colleagues to participate in state and national conversations and professional development where I can learn and grow professionally. When I am on the road visiting schools, collaborating with urban, suburban and rural educators from different states, or participating in policy conversations at the national level, I continue to learn. I share what I have learned with the DASL leadership specialists as we continually strive to find innovative solutions and creative strategies to share with the partners with whom we work. Let me provide some examples of what I have learned on the road this year.
During the summer of 2018, I, along with three DASL specialists, traveled to Long Beach, California to work with the Long Beach Unified School District on a collaborative project with the National Association for Secondary School Principals. This work involved working with the district’s leadership team, NASSP and DASL professional developers, and 15 school teams. The work focused on using design-thinking methodology with the school and district teams to define problems of practice and to prototype and test creative solutions that the school and district teams could implement. Designing and testing a model of design thinking for school teams is an innovative strategy for providing principals a framework for school improvement. We will continue to study this model as we work with LBUSD and share our learning with other partners.
Fall 2018 has been super busy for this learning leader. My road trips took me to Columbus, Ohio, Santa Anna, California and New York City. I attended the Council for Chief School Officers Teacher and Leader Learning Community in Columbus, where I presented information about the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders. State teams discussed strategies for adopting or adapting PSEL and aligning state policies for preparation, licensure, professional development, induction, coaching and evaluation to the standards. By listening and participating in discussions with the different state teams, I gained new knowledge about how state policy can leverage working conditions for educational leaders. This is important as I advocate for improved policy in Delaware. I also moderated a panel discussion on the topic of Principal Supervisors at the Women in Leadership Forum in Santa Anna, California sponsored by the American Association of School Administrators and the Association of California Administrators (AASA and ACCA). I learned more about how Long Beach Unified School Districts identifies, trains and supports principal supervisors and how supervisors monitor, support and coach principals. My final road trip was a national conversation with 10 states discussing how they are implementing ESSA, specific to school leadership. States discussed how they are tackling issues regarding equity and their plans for supporting the states lowest performing schools (CSI). The meeting included representatives from the Council for Chief State School Officers, the National Urban League, the New York City Leadership Academy, and the Wallace Foundation. I particularly enjoyed the cross-state sharing and exchange of strategies. I left with lots of ideas to share with others. My travels have provided me many opportunities to learn from national, state, and district experts and practitioners. I return with information that I can share with professional colleagues, as well as challenge traditional ways of thinking and doing—sometimes this means taking a risk. I will continue to share my key learning as I work with states, districts, and national partners.
On the Road Key Learnings
- Principals need a process or framework to facilitate conversations about school improvement. Design Thinking provides a framework that includes empathy or listening, defining the problem, generating or ideating new ideas or possibilities, prototyping possible solutions and testing potential solutions.
- Districts should consider the role of principal supervisors as a strategy for school improvement. Principal supervision should not be an add-on to a person’s job responsibilities, but rather their primary responsibility. Individuals serving in the role of principal supervisor should be experienced educators, trained for the position to support principals.
- Professional Standards for Educational Leaders are aspirational professional standards and not competencies. States and districts should adopt or adapt PSEL and use them to align preparation, licensure and certification, professional development, induction, coaching and mentoring programs, and evaluation.
- States and districts are implementing ESSA plans in various ways. Plans for supporting Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) schools vary, but most states and districts are using leadership and equity as driving forces to achieve the vision for the highest needs schools. The states and districts have a clear, strategic focus and a set of activities to address the focus. They also have designed new structures to implement them.
- Topics identified as priorities for state work in 2018 as reported to the CCSSO includes: developing principal coaching/mentoring models; improving instructional leadership; integrating leader development with school improvement supports, improving principal preparation, and supporting district use of data to address inequities.