Platform of Beliefs
Brandie Shatto, Big Spring School District
When faced with complex problems, distributed leadership can often be a powerful tool for problem-solving. As Stronge, Richard, and Catano (2005) explain, “When leaders are able to delegate and distribute authority and develop a trusting relationship with staff members, a paradox of power results in which leaders become more powerful as they give power away” (p. 28). In a distributed leadership model, the role of the principal becomes that of a facilitator, rather than manager. The principal identifies stakeholders affected by the decision, gathers input and recommendations from that group and promotes ownership of problem-solving by empowering stakeholders.
Productive change is best effected at the building level by using Berman and McLaughlin’s model of change. They point out that change occurs in three phases: mobilization, implementation, and institutionalization. Mobilization is a key phase as it includes preparing stakeholders to make and accept change. Effective mobilization includes building trust, encouraging consensus-building, gathering input, and keeping lines of communication open. This will help the principal build capacity and move toward implementation. Implementation includes making the change, celebrating successes and sharing results. If mobilization and implementation are successful, true change becomes institutionalized (Robbins & Alvy, 2009).
A school leader must be flexible and adaptive and use a variety of strategies to address different situations. The leader’s approach to each situation will depend upon the the person with whom they are dealing and the context. This is supported by Glickman’s (2004) work on Teacher Types and Approaches to Teaching. Glickman emphasizes the need to approach teachers with differing leadership styles based on their needs, level of commitment, and ability to reflect on one’s own practice. Similarly, leaders must also employ a variety of strategies when working with parents, students, and community members as each will have differing needs and styles of communication. In addition, the context of the situation may also alter the principal’s approach. In times of crisis, the principal will need to be firm and decisive. At other times, it may be prudent to solicit feedback from others.
Leaders have a responsibility to act with integrity, fairness, and in an ethical manner. These traits are paramount to developing resect and trust among staff. School leaders must not only act with moral purpose, but promote and encourage the same behavior from staff and students. To lead in this manner, the principal must have a strong understanding of her own beliefs, values, and moral code (Stronge, Richard, & Catano, 2008).
Creating a Vision
One of the most important things a new school leader will do is craft a vision of learning. This vision should reflect the values of all stakeholders and articulate the school’s purpose. Because the vision reflects the values and beliefs of stakeholders - teachers, parents, students, and community members - it should be developed through a collaborative process. Involving all stakeholders in the development of the school’s vision not only promotes ownership but also enhances commitment to the vision, increasing the likelihood that teachers, students, parents, and community members will participate in activities that enhance the school environment and align to the vision (Robbins & Alvy, 2009).
Articulating a Vision
A school leader should articulate the vision of learning often. It should be used as the foundation for all communication efforts and as such, should be visible on the school website, printed in school newsletters and publications, and posted throughout the building.
Implementing and Sustaining the Vision
Creating and articulating a vision of learning is important, but the real test of school leadership is whether or not they are able to implement and sustain the vision. To do so, the principal must demonstrate commitment to the vision. This includes modeling expectations, aligning all building goals and initiatives to the vision, allocating resources to programs that support the vision, and communicating to stakeholders how the vision is being realized. These efforts demonstrate the principal's commitment to the values and beliefs articulated in the school’s vision.
Changing a Vision Over Time
A school’s vision may change over time. As a community grows and adjusts to a changing economy, the values and beliefs of stakeholders may also change. As the school serves the community in which it is located, the vision must also change.
Supporting a Community of Diverse Learners
The primary responsibility of an educator is to help students learn. However, not all students learn the same way or are ready for the same content. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all classroom model does not effectively address the needs of a diverse community of learners. Instead, instruction must be differentiated and targeted to students’ individual needs. This requires a commitment to assessing and analyzing each student’s progress and prescribing opportunities for enrichment and remediation. To support this process, building leaders must provide time, resources, and support for teachers to collaborate and plan individualized instruction. In addition, school leaders must address the professional development needs of teachers to ensure that they have the repertoire of instructional strategies necessary to meet the needs of all learners.
When addressing the diverse needs of today’s students, it is beneficial to have an understanding of learning theory and how it relates effective instruction. Some examples include:
Abraham Maslow - In his “Hierarchy of Needs”, Maslow describes the importance of meeting students’ physiological and psychological needs as a condition for learning (Boeree, 2006). Maslow’s theory suggests school leaders have a responsibility to carefully analyze both the instructional and non-instructional needs of their student population. This analysis may highlight the need for non-instructional programs, such as a breakfast programs, that have an indirect impact on student learning.
Lev Vygotsky - Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development” reminds us that “effective instruction neither exceeds the learner’s current level of understanding nor underestimates the learner’s ability to learn independent of the teacher” (Parkay, Hass, & Anctil, 2010, p. 193). This emphasizes the need to assess students’ instructional level and target their instructional needs. School leaders can facilitate this process by providing time and resources for analysis and planning.
Howard Gardner - Gardner’s Theory of “Multiple Intelligences” relates directly to differentiation. It reminds us that students have different learning styles. Therefore, we must encourage teachers to plan instruction that meets the needs of a variety of learners and learning styles.
Technology Use in the Classroom
According to the National Council Teachers of English (NCTE), “Twenty-first century readers and writers need to
- Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
- Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
- Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
- Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
- Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
- Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments" (“Definition”, 2008).
As educators, we have a moral imperative to prepare students to compete and excel in a global economy. Therefore, we must use technology to teach the 21st century skills that students will need to become productive members of a global society. Technology use, however, must become a seamless part of the classroom, another resource to facilitate teaching content and skills. It cannot be seen as an add-on or hinderance to learning.
Supporting Professional Development Efforts for Teachers
Professional development plays an important role in the learning organization. It provides teachers with essential skills and knowledge necessary to improve instruction and can renew enthusiasm for the profession. However, in order for professional development efforts to be effective, they must address the professional needs of teachers and align to the building’s vision and mission.
CULTURE & COMMUNITY
Positive School Culture
To foster a positive school culture, the principal must determine the core beliefs and values of the school community. These values must be reflected in everyaspect of the school, from the physical environment to the interactions between the teachers and students, to the policies and practices adopted by school leadership. Aligning all aspects of the school environment to the core values will cultivate an atmosphere of school pride (Robbins & Alvy, 2009).
The Relationship Between Students, Schools, Parents & Community
In many communities, the school is the center of community activity and interaction. Therefore, school leadership should make efforts to ensure that all stakeholders feel welcome in the school and are invested in helping promote improved student learning. To facilitate this collaboration, an open channel of communication must exist. By working together with parents, students, teachers, and the community, the principal can work to foster a collaborative sense of purpose and use the strengths of each group to make positive contributions to the school culture.
Schools, social service agencies, and other related agencies have a common purpose - to help children. Therefore, the principal has a moral obligation to work with these agencies when it is in the best interest of the child.
Policy, Law, & Community Norms
The principal must carefully balance policy, law, and community norms. In some cases, federal and state mandates may conflict with the values and norms of the school community. For example, the community may value exposure to the arts, while state and federal mandates emphasize the importance of proficiency in core academic subject areas. In such a case, it becomes the principal’s role to balance programs and ensure that they meet district policy and state and federal law, while at the same time, providing students access to opportunities the community values.
To strengthen her role in the community, the principal must work to promote involvement in learning. This can be accomplished by establishing partnerships with local businesses and organizations, soliciting input form parents and community members, and working with parent organizations like the PTO to keep all stakeholders informed.
- Passion for improving student learning
- Extensive experience working with teachers on data analysis efforts, curriculum alignment, and technology integration
- Experience connecting with stakeholders for public relations purposes
- Experience planning, preparing, and facilitating professional development sessions
- Experience working as part of a grant-writing team
- High levels of organization
- Effective communication skills
Boeree, C. G. (2006). Abraham Maslow. Retrieved from http://webspace.ship.edu/cgoer/maslow.html
The Definition of 21st Century Learners. (15 Feb., 2008). National Council Teachers of English. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/governance/literacies
Glickman, C., Gordon, S. & Ross-Gordon, J. (2004). Supervision and instructional leadership: a developmental approach(6th ed). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
Parkay, F.W., Hass, G., & Anctil, E.J. (2010). Curriculum Leadership: Readings for Developing Quality Educational Programs. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Robbins, P., & Alvy, H.B. (2009). The Principal’s Companion: Strategies for Making the Job Easier. Thosand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Stronge, J., Richard, H.B., & Catano, N. Qualities of Effective Principals. Alexandria, VA: Association for Curriculum Development.