Song of the Open Road
By Walt Whitman
Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.
Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road. …….
How quickly things can change . As an educator for over 40 years I have learned to adapt to change . I can actually say with certainty that it is the one thing I can depend on. Change will happen whether we want it or think we need it. I am used to change. I have experienced the change that comes when a new superintendent or principal is hired in the K-12 system. New leaders bring with them new ideas. They establish their leadership team and set new goals and priorities. New priorities often include new initiatives valued by the leader, The new initiatives my include revised processes for day to day operations, the adoption of new curriculum, an adapted schedule, or new financial priorities. These are things we can depend on when working in K-12 education. These changes are inevitable and tend to spark creativity, collaboration and a renewed focus on the core mission of the organization. The changes can often create stress, self-doubt, confusion and lack of trust. Changes in our work life often impact our personal lives as well. Our work worries follow us in the front door of our homes and sometimes impact our interactions with family and friends. This is often unavoidable. Of course there are also the normal change events we all experience in our personal lives such as the birth of a new baby or the death of a family member. There are marriages we celebrate, divorces we don’t understand, illnesses that create fear, and new job opportunities that we celebrate. We know these events will occur and we expect them. They are the events that we celebrate with friends and family. They are the challenges we deal with personally and professionally. What we have never experienced is the world as we know it today–March 2020. Today we are experiencing an international health crisis as a result of the coronavirus–a pandemic. I never expected to become familiar with terms like “social distancing,” “shelter at home,” and “pandemic.” These terms are now part of my every day vocabulary with friends, family and colleagues. These are times of uncertainty, confusion, and fear that are unlike any I have ever experienced. And what makes this worse is the health crisis is also fueling an economic crisis and an educational equity dilemma.
In the past, my blog has focused on the work I do with local, state and national partners in K-20 education policy. I learn so much working with districts, schools, universities and professional organizations in Delaware and the many other locations where I am fortunate to travel. The theme of my blog is the Road Less Traveled. Each blog post in the past has been about the roads I have traveled and what I have learned. Today the theme is the same. I will share where I have been before social distancing —I call that Then—and I will conclude with my new reality—-my Now. I hope you will react to this blog with your new reality. There is so much we can learn as we adapt, support, and learn from one another.
In September 2019 I presented to the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) School Leadership Development Collaborative in St. Louis, MO. The purpose of the collaborative is to bring state policy leaders from different states together to collaborate and share their work. I was fortunate to work with 10 states focused on the adoption of school leadership standards and the alignment of their induction programs, professional development, university preparation programs, and performance evaluation systems to the newly adopted standards. Delaware has been a leader regarding the adoption and alignment of the Professional Standards for School Leaders (PSEL) so I was able to share some local examples. It was nice to see DE policy leaders in attendance at this important national meeting.
Another important event also took me on the road in September 2019. I was invited to participate on a panel at the National Governors’ Association (NGA) Fall Conference for Governor’s educational policy advisors. The topic of my panel was “Why States Should Invest in Principals?” Approximately 38 states were represented at the conference and I was very pleased to connect with Governor Carney’s Education Policy Advisor, Jon Sheehan, to talk about DE’s investment in principal pipeline initiatives. Governor Carney and DE’s Secretary of Education, Susan Bunting, have been supportive of policies and practices to support the working conditions of education leaders in DE. It was exciting to talk about some of this work.
October 2019 was a great month because I was able to co-facilitate a site visit for state teams, urban school districts, and university faculty to visit and learn from the University of Denver who collaborate with the Denver Public Schools to prepare principals. Dr. Susan Korauch (Univ of Denver) and Dr. Dana Williams (Denver Public Schools) were wonderful hosts and provided the visiting teams with a busy agenda where we could learn from experts about the benefits of collaboration in the preparation of principals. A panel of assistant principals and principals who were graduates of the Ritchie program talked about their experiences in the preparation program and answered questions from the state/district teams who were visiting. My favorite event was when we visited an elementary Spanish Immersion PK-5 elementary school where everyone spoke English for half a day and Spanish the rest of the day including the Assistant Principal and Principal-both who were graduates of the University of Denver Ritchie Program. I came back with lots of ideas to improve our partnerships with DE school districts. Thanks to the Wallace Foundation for including site visits as one of the learning opportunities for districts, states and universities participating in the ELLC and UPPI initiatives.
As the trees started turning orange and yellow in November 2019, I was on an airplane to New Orleans to present at the national conference for the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA). UCEA is professional organization whose members include university faculty researching and teaching in educational administration programs. Most of the faculty are preparing assistant principals, principals and superintendents in their masters and doctoral programs. Dr. Michael Saylor, Education Associate for School Leadership at the DEDOE, and Dr. Lauren Bailes, Assistant Professor in the SOE at the University of DE, presented with me on the topic of Delaware’s Performance Appraisal System that has been aligned to the Professional Standards for School Leadership (PSEL). I also co-presented at a second session with colleagues Dr. Michelle Young, Dean at Loyala Marymount University, and Joan Aucter, Program Coordinator for the National Policy Board Educational Administration’s CAEP Accreditation educational leadership programs. Both sessions were well received and confirmed for me the importance and value of adopting national standards for preparation and the profession. The best thing about attending the UCEA Conference is that I was able to attend several sessions led by researchers whose work influences my work as the Director of the Delaware Academy for School Leadership.
December 2019 I found myself on an Amtrak train headed to one of my favorite places–New York City. I was asked to facilitate work groups where university faculty from seven universities who are redesigning their curriculum and internship requirements for the principal preparation program shared program changes with policy leaders from ten states focused on state policy related to principal pipelines. This University Principal Preparation Program (UPPI) and the Educational Leadership Learning Community (ELLC) are two initiatives funded by the Wallace Foundation. I have been fortunate to be involved in supporting this work as a facilitator for several years. The learning that takes place during the professional learning community is extraordinary and exciting. Consider the value of sharing a program syllabus for a course titled Leading for Equity or comparing your program competencies to another university’s competencies. The collaboration and exchange of ideas is the best way to create exemplary programs for principal preparation.
January 2020 should have been cold and boring, but I must say it was mild and motivating. I was asked to facilitate a Principal Pipeline Self-Study for three large urban districts in South Carolina. These districts are involved in the 90 district Principal Pipeline Learning Community sponsored by the Wallace Foundation. They are participating in a self-evaluation of the district’s work to develop a pipeline of principals for their schools. Districts are reviewing policies and practices related to standards, pre-service preparation, selective placement, performance evaluation and support, principal supervisors, leader tracking systems, and sustainability. Each district convened a team of stakeholders to work on the self assessment including documentation and early wins. I have once again learned from the districts I worked with and find myself bringing strategies and ideas back to my own state for consideration. I am looking forward to sharing the Self Study Tool developed by Policy Studies Associates once it has been tested, edited and approved for sharing by the Wallace Foundation.
My final road trip this winter was on February 2020, Valentine’s Day, in the city of San Diego. I served on a panel with a group of colleagues at the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) National Conference for Education.. The panel included facilitator, Max Silverman from the Center of Educational Leadership (CEL) at the University of WA, Gary Bloom, author of Blended Coaching, and two principal supervisors, Sito Narcisse from DC Public Schools and Michael Lord from DesMoines Public Schools. The topic for the Thought Leaders Session was Investing in Principal Supervisors to Lead School Improvement. Once again I learned so much from the panel members and the comments and feedback from participants.
In February 2020 I was scheduled to attend a two-day meeting in New York City with 200 educators representing 90 school districts from 30+ states . The goal was to provide district teams the opportunity to share what they learned by participating in a facilitated self-study to to assess policies and practices that support the districts’ principal pipeline. Because of the coronavirus, the meeting changed from a face to face convening to a virtual meeting. DASL was working as a sub-contractor to the National Association for Secondary School Principals and the National Policy Board for Educational Administration. Fortunately, we are experienced working with Zoom technology and breakout rooms. We assisted NASSP, NPBEA, and the Wallace Foundation by managing 17 breakout sessions for three different topical sessions and two whole group sessions. My personal thank you to Alison Travers, DASL Associate, who worked the magic to make the transition so district teams could work and share information virtually. Lots of learning took place over two days. Districts were able to share their plans and early wins and discuss next steps to develop a work plan.
Several meetings have been cancelled for March and April 2020. I am relieved. It is critical at this time that all of us do our part to “shelter in place” as we combat the coronavirus. We will figure out ways to do our work using technology. We will reschedule meetings, deliver professional development, coaching and teaching using new technologies that we will be forced to learn and use in new ways. We will acknowledge the educational equity issues that we must resolve. As educators we will figure this out because students are depending on us. The University of Delaware faculty and staff are working from home but classes for undergraduate and graduate students resumed online this week. Leadership Specialists at the Delaware Academy for School Leadership are working from home as well. All are checking in with school and district partners to finds ways to support school leaders at this challenging time. We will continue to support school leaders by providing virtual PD, coaching, and technical assistance. This is our NOW. We are adapting and using this time to connect, create, and support one another. Stay well and healthy. Connect with a friend or colleague this week. Read a good book.