Sunday, July 19, 2009

Building Capacity From Within (Part 2)

In a local school district that I work with, elementary school leaders wanted to implement the Six Traits of writing program. Trainers were brought in and teachers were trained, but the initiative just sort of fizzled at the beginning, for the most part.

A couple of teachers that saw the value in the writing process that Six Traits offered decided to implement some of what they learned and began getting results in student achievement. The school leaders recognized this and made the decision to send these teachers to a national Six Traits training course.

Upon return, the teachers were not only excited about what they were going to be able to do for their students, but also about teaching what they’ve learned to their colleagues. Over a couple of years, the building level leaders and even the district administration empowered these teachers to become turnkey trainers for the Six Traits initiative, turning a “drive by” model of staff development into a “sustained” model of ongoing professional support.

The key points I want to underscore from this example are that 1) When school leaders empower their teachers to become leaders, great things happen; and 2) sustainability of a district initiative is much easier when it is supported locally and deeply by multiple stakeholders, not just administration.

Janet Hale describes this as being both a servant and leader. In recent conversations with her about curriculum mapping initiatives, we both agree that buy-in is essential when beginning ANY sort of district initiative, whether it’s Six Traits training, Curriculum Mapping, Common Assessment practices, etc. Unfortunately, mandating from the top down is a less inspiring catalyst for making changes. Instead of demanding that this or that be done, good leadership really becomes about creating a new group of leaders. That means inviting, empowering, and balancing the talents in a school district to get done what needs to get done without unraveling collegiality and morale in the process.

In the Six Traits example, the school leaders recognized that developing the leadership capabilities of these teachers and allowing them to build the Six Traits initiative from the bottom up could best serve their interests. Meaning that typical “leader” roles were upended in favor of doing what’s best for everyone, especially and ultimately, for the students. The building level leaders “served” in a new capacity to develop a new group of leaders around their Six Traits initiative and everyone benefited.

When schools decide to get on this or that wagon, or implement a new initiative through mass trainings, it’s important to understand the servant / leader mentality. If district leadership is serving in a “Monarch” capacity, where things are mandated and dictated to the masses, how long will it take to launch a new initiative versus a more “Democratic” capacity where voices are heard, recommendations are listened to, and key players (teachers as new leaders in this area) are identified and trained to not only implement something new, but also to be the sustainable element, the “go to” folks to keep the initiative going?

The key, then, to effective leadership and initiative implementation is to find those teachers in a district with the capability to lead. All that is usually required to develop those leadership skills is positivity, affirmation and a chance to do so.

Think of the great things schools could accomplish by developing their teachers’ talents, creating a new group of leaders to support ongoing initiatives, and producing a symbiotic model where everyone serves the needs of everyone else to the benefit of all, especially the students.

In the next post, I’ll talk more about collegiality and developing professional learning networks that extend beyond the school and into the global arena, which will help to continually support teachers as they discover their own capacity to lead.

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