Photo by Flickr user Redux
When I took on my new tech role back in June, I approached it with a focus on teachers. In my years in the classroom (the only job I’ve known is teaching), I came to believe that teachers not only were the leverage points in schools but also that they deserved better. By that I mean that teachers are too often questioned, unsupported, reigned-in, and dismissed by those in leadership positions. So when I began this work, I committed myself to the teachers – in hopes of winning them over with constant support, and providing them with the resources and guidance for successful tech implementation. If change management requires an initial focus on the innovators and early-adopters of an organization, then I must be doing something right. Right?
Well, the irony I’ve come to see (with generous advice from folks internally and externally – including Liz Arney and Shawn Rubin) is that indeed it is the ones in leadership positions who allow for the innovators to flourish or fail. Simply put, leaders are the leverage point; they have the ability to support or stifle innovation in their classrooms. A few reasons why I’m stumbling into this realization…
1. Leaders have the ultimate say – Under the charter umbrella, our schools are given a great deal of autonomy. Therefore, leaders are given the power to make decisions – nearly all decisions – as to what is best for their school. If I’m hoping for a teacher to pilot a station-rotation model, it will require the school leaders support – not just approval. The leader needs to see the value in the program, because inevitably things will go wrong with technology (internet outages, new management requirements, furniture rearrangement or acquisition, schedule restructuring, or any number of other issues that will require building-level support). If a school leader’s vision doesn’t include blended learning, then scaling the pilot becomes practically impossible, as well; one teacher’s innovation will simply fall flat without the active support and advocacy for innovation. On the contrary, a leader who is committed is not only going to support that pilot but actively spread it to others if it’s successful.
2. Leaders have greater reach – I met with an assistant principal recently who wanted to identify next steps in supporting his teachers use of a blended program. As he explained his system, whereby each teacher was already checking the data biweekly, and using it to intervene with students, I realized how much more powerful an engaged school leader is than myself. Had I attempted to push his teachers to do the exact same thing, I would have fallen short – I don’t have the same rapport with his staff, I don’t see their classes daily, I don’t know their students personally, and I don’t have the power to hold them accountable and make demands if necessary. Leaders are in the building all day every day; they’re able to check-in with the teachers in their building on an as-needed (at least daily) basis; they’re able to push teachers to follow through on the initiatives that they’ve outlined for their building. I can’t compete with that; But I can support it. If I can support other leaders to make similar commitments to consistent data analysis and action, my impact will be exponentially greater. Leaders are the leverage point.
All of this said, I haven’t given up on the teachers. To the contrary, I’ve doubled-down on my efforts around the teacher-leader program I’ve envisioned from the beginning. The INSPIRES Fellowship will be an avenue to leverage rockstar teachers within each school, not only to support blended learning in their own buildings but also – I hope – to spread innovation and best practices across the network. This program is, in Shawn Rubin’s words, “a building leader play.” By that, he means that the program’s success will hinge on leaders’ valuing and support of their teachers and the program; with leader support, we will be able to commit ourselves to supporting innovation across schools.
So I’ve hit reset. I’m going to restructure my time to reflect this shift, in hopes of making a greater impact with my work. This means monthly leader check-ins to evaluate progress on specific blended goals, along with constant walk-throughs with leaders to assess needs. Ultimately, my job is to promote and support personalized learning for all of our students. To do so, the work will need to support each school leader’s vision and goals for their students, meeting the instructional needs unique to their program. But who knows? Might need to hit reset again soon.