School Transformation… A Sobering Realization

I’ve not written for a long while.  In keeping to the title of my blog, Vulnerable Leadership, truth is I have been a little lost and disillusioned in my school transformation journey.  The non-negotiables I firmly held to regarding school transformation have been challenged in the past 4 months causing me to pause, reflect, and grow.

The reason for the “lost” feeling initially was caused by Hurricane Harvey resulting in a foot of water all across campus and the destruction of a third of our families homes.  We kicked off the year clapping our teachers in on a red carpet of their own in a “Let’s Hear It For Our Heroes” event, heavily focused on ensuring teachers felt as valuable as indeed they are to our children and to the field. Copious amounts of time was spent in leadership meetings discussing next steps to support growing each individual teacher, in analysis of previous year’s data, how to foster authentic collaboration in PLCs, and creating conditions where teachers can be as successful as they desired.   I held true to the concept of ensuring all staff knew and believed in the importance of personal and professional growth, resisting complacency at all costs, and commitments to use data to drive all instruction.

I still believe firmly in the concept of the importance of the leader’s role in creating conditions for teacher growth and success, in turn teachers’ fostering classroom conditions in whish students feel inspired to grow and take risks.    In fact this was the focus of all my study and work throughout each summer in preparation for each new school year.  If the conditions were right, teachers would feel inspired, encouraged, and challenged to continuously improve and grow for kids.

But what happens when conditions are not enough, when the emotional state of your staff, students, and community is complete instability, when resources are gone (resources teachers finally found value in to nudge more student ownership and resources teachers spent a great deal of time and thought creating and funding), and the energy poured into making the building a place that invokes pride, warmth, and inspiration  is wasted as a result of a unexpected natural disaster.  As a leader, how do you continue to inspire learning with minimal control over what we know as “conditions for learning?”   How do you continue to move a campus forward and continue transformation and optimal levels of student and teacher learning?  After all, I believed establishing conditions for growth and success was absolutely one the most important roles of a campus principal.

As a side note and truth be known, I was mad- uselessly mad, but mad.  We had worked so hard to overcome a culture of complacency and mediocrity where we blamed the poor achievement results of our students on their backgrounds.  This was year three in our journey to transform our school- the year we would start to see some of the fruits of our labor? What now?  Why us?

Another vulnerable moment here…  I have always prided myself on valuing shared decisions, meaningful collaboration, being present, asking questions and planning for these things with intentionality.  However, a sobering reflection came to me about in the midst of this disaster, setting conditions for learning MUST be collaborative too.  I’m not sure why it took a horrible flood to bring me to this realization but I am taking the lesson and running with it because I, quite vulnerably, didn’t know where to start to rebuild.  Assuming I knew alone based on numbers and observations, the next step to reviving our spirit and souls to a focus on learning and growth is irresponsible and insulting.

So collaboration in setting conditions for learning has moved from the monthly leadership meetings, quarterly site based decision making committee meetings, and weekly administrator meetings to weekly staff meetings where all staff and students help set the agenda, to individual professional learning plans in which staff tell us what they want more of based on efficacy and student data, leadership meetings open to all who desire leadership, and changes in campus operations are driven by student and teacher feedback.

School transformation leadership to me now is less about “setting” conditions for learning but rather “supporting” conditions for learning.  The work on the hearts and beliefs of our staff the past two and a half years is the only thing that carried us through the past four months.  We didn’t allow learning to become secondary to “just making it.” We knew our kids needed more.  2018 will find Brookside collaboratively setting and supporting conditions for the best come back yet.

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