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We always elevate the triumphant stories in our society of the “Lone Ranger” leader. These people seemingly rise above the rest of the human race to become the iconic role model in their field. But, like most Disney endings, reality is telling us a different story. This phenomenon is very evident in the field of education. Movies like Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, Dangerous Minds, The Principal, etc. all tell stories of educators that have received hero status because of a single-minded passion and power for educational and academic transformation. And, while these stories may begin in truth, recent research is telling us that schools may not achieve academic success if their school leader’s day-to-day priority is academic success. While this sounds confusing, the logic is fairly simple.

A 2009 Stanford University Study by Horng, Klasik, and Loeb suggests that, “a single-minded focus on principals as instructional leaders operationalized through direct contact with teachers may be detrimental if it forsakes the important role of principals as organizational leaders.” In other words, if extreme administrative movie characters like Morgan Freeman and James Belushi portray school change through the use of chains and baseball bats, they may be demonstrating the simple message that structure and organization must be the precursor to an effective system. Perhaps the message is simply one of organizational necessity. This is a necessity to ensure structure and organization prior to quality and implementation. This statistical notion holds true in all team-based environments because quality results cannot be replicated without a consistent replicable structure.

Question: How then do school administrators juggle the responsibility of organizational leadership, when the academic and financial focuses of education are constantly pushed forward with ultimatums?

Answer: To answer this question, one can look at the same Stanford study. While analyzing the impact of administrative integration into day-to-day instructional activities, it was found that there are only marginal (if any at all) related improvements in student performance. And, there are often reports of deteriorating relationships with teachers. These findings suggest that the principal may risk academic and cultural growth when getting overly involved in the instructional or academic process.

Conclusion: The school leader cannot ignore the academic process, but should ensure there are solid organizational frameworks in place before prioritizing an individual role in academic implementation. And, while school leaders may feel compelled to micromanage the educational process, over-involvement does not necessarily equal academic improvement, and may cause harm to the teacher-administrator relationship. School leaders need to empower staff leadership and should consider additional administrative oversight for academic implementation in order to ensure organizational frameworks are held together with consistency.

Tommy Reddicks
Indianapolis, IN


2009 Stanford Study:
http://www.stanford.edu/~sloeb/papers/Principal%20Time-Use%20(revised).pdf
Horng, E,L, Klasik, D, Loeb, S, (2009). "Principal Time-Use and School Effectiveness." School Leadership Research Report, 09-3: Institute for Research on Education Policy & Practice.



 
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Teachers have an undying thirst for time, clear communication, resources, professional freedom, and higher salary.  Amidst these desires, there is often a feeling of, “If I could just be left alone to do this the way I feel it should be done, everything would be better.” But, teaching is an extremely difficult job. Individual students have individual learning needs and styles, which then demand individual teaching accommodations. Those accommodations also vary by subject. So, teachers must make endless decisions on delivery and preparation in every hour of the teaching day to compensate for the differentiated environment they work in.  This requires an intelligent, flexible, and highly skilled individual.

Unfortunately, with the myriad of subjects to teach, and a vast array of curricular tools, teachers are often presented with a room full of children at the start of the school year with only basic directions pertaining to “how” and “what” to teach (http://prospect.org/article/teacher-autonomy-paradox). While some teachers thrive in the “ultimately malleable” gray area, other teachers carve out a unique path that may not align with their co-teachers or the following year’s instructional plan.

So, while there are certainly identifiable pieces in the core subjects that are necessary for completing a grade, in systems with unchecked autonomy, how subjects are taught can vary greatly from teacher to teacher. When this is the case, the actual student learning is in danger of becoming too random. Compounding that idea is the idea of autonomy in assessment. Freedom to assess, or freedom to choose what needs assessed is a great liberty for a teacher, but a great curse on a student body if left too subjective.

So, how does a teacher maintain autonomy and a sense of creativity, while still allowing for a cohesive standards-driven educational system? This paradoxical question can cripple the effectiveness of a school if not answered in a way that the entire teaching staff can comprehend. First off, the school should have a curriculum map tied to standards, that clearly outline the specific content areas to be taught, length of time for each content area, and calendared schedule for each area of content. This helps establish boundaries around the “what and when” in a classroom. Additionally, grade level teams should be lesson planning in tandem.  This allows teachers within a grade level to share ideas and coordinate plans so that their classroom instruction is relative across their grade level.

But, how do we ensure that teachers will assess in a way that measures true student mastery or conceptual fluency of the instruction? The answer to this question involves backwards design (Wiggins & McTighe (1998). Understanding by Design.). With backwards design, the goal of the instruction and assessment always comes before the lesson plan.  In this fashion it is important for teachers to understand the state standard that their content supports. If the standard is “Math: Numerical Operations”, then the content should represent the standard, AND the classroom assessment should measure capacity against the requirement of that standard. In order for this to work, the teacher must work backwards by starting with the standard, understanding the assessment, determining the appropriate content, and finally, getting creative with writing the lesson (http://www.carla.umn.edu/assessment/vac/CreateUnit/p_1.html).

Too often, the “cool classroom idea” is the driving force behind a lesson or unit. In these cases, the state standards needing taught, or qualities of assessment to measure capacity or growth can become afterthoughts in the educational process. And, when standards and assessments are afterthoughts in your educational program, so is your overall school performance! In other words, autonomy will represent a problem if standards and assessments are allowed to become a low priority.

To sum up, teachers crave autonomy, but ground rules must be set to ensure that both curriculum mapping and skillful standards-based lesson planning are happening within the creative autonomous environment. Administrators and lead teachers must ensure that these processes are in check by regularly reviewing detailed lesson plans and cross checking curriculum maps against day-to-day classroom instruction. And, while the term “micromanaging” gets abused as a negative verb in education, it is a necessary component when ensuring that your school systems are setup in a way that allows for creativity and autonomy. In other words, one must micromanage in order maintain autonomy.

Paradox? Perhaps.

But, the micromanagement is in the setup and maintenance of a creative, high-functioning, autonomous system.

Tommy Reddicks
Indianapolis, IN



 
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“Children’s natural curiosity and desire to discover the world are integrated with philosophy” Prof. Mathew Lipmam. As a philosophy major in college and an intern at the Mayor’s office I took a unique interest in charter schools, specifically their ability to be innovative in education. As I sat in an ancient philosophy class, I was struck by a philosophical dilemma: if philosophy was the root of knowledge, why is it that we don’t teach it more in primary and secondary education? To be fair, we do touch on concepts such as the Pythagorean theorem or Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. However, this question was normally answered by concerns that children were just not capable of understanding philosophy. I would argue that this is in fact far from the truth.

Consider for a moment the child’s ability to learn a foreign language at a young age. Here at PSOE we are already taking advantage of teaching Spanish to children at a young age to increase comprehension. If this concept applies to the teaching of something as complicated as a new language, why should it not apply to philosophy? In fact, research over the past 40 years has concluded that even as a first year undergraduate in college it is too late to effectively develop reasoning skills (Marashi, 2007). This isn’t to say that without philosophy we don’t develop the ability to reason, but we will develop poor reasoning skills the same way native English speakers develop poor writing or speaking skills.

It is also important to take into consideration that there are two methods to the proper utilization of philosophy. The first (what you would expect from your undergraduate philosophy class) teaches who the philosophers are and explores their theories. The second method is more comprehensive, and something children do on a daily basis whether we want them to or not. Think of anytime that you have made a decision about the world. At one point you may have believed in a monster that lived under your bed, and you acted accordingly when you had to get out of bed at night to go to the bathroom. Through experience we grew out of these fears, but our experiences shape our philosophy of the world, even if we don’t realize it’s happening. A child who performs poorly at math isn’t bad at math or pre-disposed to be poor at math; they just don’t understand it yet. That being said, the child only has experience with not understanding math, and over the years this experience continues causing the child to believe that they are poor at math and that nothing can change it.

Findings in 50 countries indicate that teaching philosophy to children in school improves thinking skills and critical thinking. “Children should be taught how to try out, analyze and experience the subject matter rather than being taught how to memorize and recall the content” (Marashi, 2007).  This form of doing philosophy would take advantage of short stories and books to develop philosophical questions and cognitive skills. This educational philosophy is being supported by www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org, which suggests using books already found in the classroom (such as The Giving Tree or Dr. Seuss). The site also provides modules and resources to help teachers develop constructive methods for teaching philosophy in the classroom. Teaching philosophy transforms the classroom and the role of the teacher and student. Instead of information being transmitted from the teacher to the student, information is received in a collaborative discussion. In this manner, the teacher only facilitates ideas, rather than trying to convince children or bring them to a specific conclusion.

In a study done by Keith Topping and Steve Trickery in 2007 a group of 105 students (age ten) were taught philosophy for one hour a week for 16 months. Compared with the control group of 72 students, the experiment group showed signs of improvement on tests of verbal, numerical, and spatial abilities after 16 months. Two years later the children were tested again and despite changing schools or moving from primary to secondary, the experimental group showed continued improvement while the control group continued to fall behind (Topping and Tickery, 2007).

The Greek translation of philosophy “love of wisdom”, is the goal of education. In other words, the goal is not to teach children to recall facts, but to teach children how to analyze material and critically evaluate it. It was the teachings of Aristotle that helped lead Alexander the Great to conquer most of the known world; or what about the ideas of John Locke that lead to the writing of the United States Constitution. If the “love of wisdom” has lead to some of the greatest achievements in the history of man, why are we not teaching philosophy more?

Jacob Asbury
Guest Blogger
Indianapolis, IN



 
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Change is difficult for us all, but when you are dealing with children between the ages of 12 and 15, it just seems to have a higher rate of difficulty.  When students move from an elementary setting into a middle school setting, so many changes take place that it is difficult to determine which end is up.  While in elementary schools, students are typically taught by one teacher, walked to the restroom and cafeteria each day, and are with the same 25-35 other students all day long. This all changes once they reach middle school.  The students are now expected to manage a locker, visit seven or more classrooms and teachers each day, learn the “ins and outs” of each teacher’s personality and expectations, and organize themselves enough to get everything completed and to the right destination each day. Add to that challenges involved with the physical, mental, social, and emotional changes happening to this age-group, and you have a recipe for potential disaster.

As a middle school administrator and having worked closely with administrators at the elementary level, I understand the differences between the two environments and how it affects students (and parents). The first week of school is filled with silence, wide eyes, and multiple questions.  No one knows where to sit in the cafeteria because they are not assigned seats and there are six lines available to visit for a variety of types of food.  Now, granted, this wonderful silence does not last long and it only takes a few days for students to relish in the thought that they can sit wherever they want and run up their lunch bill by purchasing pizza, breadsticks, ice cream, and Gatorade each day, but the silence does exist in the beginning.

Helping students manage their newfound freedom takes many people.  Informing the parents early in the journey is a must. Conducting a parent meeting in the spring prior to students entering the middle school allows staff to fully inform parents of day-to-day operations, scheduling, communication techniques, and what their child will experience when coming to the middle school.  We have received great praise from parents following these meetings as their pre-conceived notions or “word on the street” has been clarified with true information. The parents feel more at ease and have had their nagging questions answered which, in turn, can help to calm the nerves of their children as well. Once the parents know what to expect, they are much more likely to ease the minds of the children and prepare them over the summer for the transition.

Another benefit for students is to have them visit the middle school during the last few weeks of their elementary experience. During a school day in May, we invite all of our 6th graders in the district to come to the middle school for a couple of hours.  This is treated as a field trip and students and teachers board buses and fill the gymnasium to hear staff speak, students perform, and tour the building. This allows the students to get a feel for the school while in session – a big difference from coming to a parent meeting in the evening! They experience passing period with 800 students crowding the halls, see the cafeteria (and the 6 lines they have to choose from), and meet multiple staff members in hopes of seeing a friendly face on the first day of school in August.

Summer registration is another opportunity for students and their families to, once again, come to the school prior to their first instructional day. This event brings families in to complete all necessary paperwork, order yearbooks, add lunch money to student accounts, provide students with their IDs and laptops, assign students lockers and locks (which they can “try out” to ease nerves on the first day), and pay any necessary textbook rentals and fees. This day tends to be more of a task-oriented experience, but has proven to be greatly beneficial to staff and parents – we are able to get the information we need and families have another chance to visit the building and get their questions answered.

The transition from elementary to middle school is daunting. By providing multiple opportunities for families and students to visit the school and communicate with staff, a comfort level can be reached.  So many of us have a fear of the unknown; once we know what to expect, everything seems to be much easier to handle.

Holly Frye 

Guest Blogger
Mooresville, IN

 
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It’s been mumbled in the halls, whispered behind closed doors, and exaggerated by a younger, less patient teaching corps. “Older teachers just can’t handle new technology”. It’s simply too complicated, and too hard to grasp for those who came before the Internet generation. Well, research may argue a different point.

In an attempt to address how new technologies are affecting an aging teaching corps (who may not have had exposure to technology during their collegiate training or early formative teaching years), Eshet-Alkalai and Chajut's review of personal research followed age-related differences with three groups of twenty participants. Groups ranged from late high school to 40 years old with equal pairs of males and females. The main focus of the research was to measure functional ability with modern technologies through tests of photo-visual thinking skill, reproduction thinking skill, branching thinking skill, and informational thinking. They found that the younger participants performed significantly better than the older participants in skills that required mastery and experience with computer programs. On the other hand, the older adult participants performed significantly better in tasks that required critical and creative usage of technology. In other words, it’s a draw. There seem to be equal advantages to both age groups, which neutralize the theory that younger learners are more apt to be successful in the use and integration of new technologies.

Based on the results from this research, it is evident that experience with technology, and not age-related development accounts for the observed changes in digital literacy skills. Results also show that the ability to find information using technology or digital tools does not guarantee an educated or smart use of the information or digital tools. Or, in simple terms, provided adequate time for experience and learning, you “can” teach an old dog new tricks.

Tommy Reddicks
Indianapolis, IN


 
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While practical experience can be invaluable for the US educator, it is important for teachers and teacher leaders to utilize tools and techniques proven to be successful through research. In their article, “How Teachers Can Use Scientifically Based Research to Make Curricular and Instructional Decisions”, Paula and Keith Stanovich (2003) point out that teachers are just like research scientists. Consider the following scenario presented in their article:

“…they (teachers) evaluate their students’ previous knowledge, develop hypotheses about the best methods for attaining lesson objectives, develop a teaching plan based on those hypotheses, observe the results, and base further instruction on the evidence collected.”

This cycle very closely resembles the scientific method. Moreover, when laid out in this manner, it should seem very familiar to most classroom teachers. Therefore, if teachers and research scientists share a similar scientific process, it would seem a probable conclusion that both would rely on the latest research to guide their process. This however is often not the case in the classroom. With the pace and demand of a classroom, teachers find it hard to manage time in a way that allows for their own education.

In a 2006 survey* including 21,000 teachers in the state of Kansas, 61% of the teachers didn’t think they had enough non-instructional time to do their jobs, let alone consider spending time researching best practices. 98% percent of teachers surveyed also said they spent time on school-related activities outside their regular workday. Thirty-seven percent of those said they spent more than 10 hours a week outside their regular workday. Given those statistics, one can easily see how our teachers struggle with time. It is also easier to understand why teachers struggle with keeping current on educational research. There is clearly very little time available for more than their own instructional process.

So, how do we help our educators apply the latest research to their classroom instruction when time limits their ability to do more than teach? This question does not come with a package answer, but there are many ways to address the issue. Consider the following strategies:

1.     Utilize school administration and staff leadership to source and present “relevant” educational research to the teaching staff.

2.     Ensure a percentage of all staff professional development is dedicated to the study and discussion of the latest educational research.

3.     Establish a Professional Learning Community (PLC) utilizing goals for learning established by the learning community. (Rotate PLC responsibilities so that the study and  
learning is done by rotating groups, and then shared out for discussion.)

4.     Build connections in the greater educational community so that educational research can be presented by outside experts to the teaching staff as a service to the school.

5.     Create a staff newsletter designed to highlight the latest research in education.

6.     Create partnerships with local colleges or universities, offering up classrooms for potential educational research projects.

7.     Encourage staff members pursuing a masters or doctoral degree to conduct their research at their own school site.

While it may never be possible to create a system where educators have extra time to spare, it is important to ensure our educators still have access to current information revealed by the scientific research community. Likewise, it is also important to find ways for our true field-researchers in education (our teachers) to share their work and discoveries with those in the more traditional scientific realm.

Tommy Reddicks
Indianapolis, IN

* 2006 Kansas Teacher Working Conditions Survey


 
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Leadership is a constant struggle between the use and influence of power and the need to develop respect. While many leaders have found success through a process of intimidation and rudeness, others have found success through fair and respectful oversight. Nevertheless, research is telling us that the fair approach is not necessarily the most successful.

In the Harvard Business Review article, Why Fair Bosses Fall Behind, the title question is addressed. Lab studies and responses from hundreds of corporate decision makers and employees began with the age-old question, “Should leaders be loved or feared?”. Going a step further, the researchers in this study also asked, “Can you have respect and power?” The findings were clear. It’s hard to gain both. To solidify that point, the study also yielded another consistent piece of information expressed in a range of industries: “Decisions about high-level promotions most often center on perceptions of power, not of fairness”.

According to the study, a very similar preference was demonstrated by students in a lab setting.

Each witnessed a “manager” telling an employee about a compensation decision. Manager A communicated the decision rudely, Manager B with respect. The students were then assigned to work in a group led by the manager they’d observed; afterward they rated their leader’s power. Rude Manager A consistently scored higher than respectful Manager B—even though there was no difference in how they’d treated the participants themselves.

By observing both the rude and respectful behavior, students had enough sensory influence to create a true bias.

It is easy to argue that extremes on either side of power or fairness are faulty, but what does this research tell up-and-coming leaders who are working to solidify the push and pull of their leadership style? It suggests that a leadership approach devoid of power may struggle, especially when a stronger example of power already exists as a comparison for others in the workplace. It would also suggest that a very serious, direct approach when beginning a leadership position would be taken more seriously than an approach of fairness, kindness, and mutual respect.

This discussion brings up the familiar question, “Is it better to be liked or respected?” Research is telling us that leaders who push hard for policy, process, and results in spite of relationships or kindness have a distinct advantage over those who choose the inverse path. Research is also telling us that “being liked” is secondary to success. Therefore, it is easy to understand the influence of a stronger, meaner leader. However, while these “superleaders” may demand more respect and higher achievement in the workplace, employee burnout can quickly become a side effect. C. K. Marshida’s article Employee Dissatisfaction Leads to Burnout, discusses this issue and suggests that employees are the backbone of the organization. She says that when the employees are fractured, the organization cannot stand strong.

In Susan E. Jackson and Randall S. Schuler’s article Preventing Employee Burnout, some solutions for avoiding employee burnout are proposed. They say,

In addition to increasing employees' feelings of control, participation in decision making may help prevent burnout by clarifying role expectations and giving employees an opportunity to reduce some of [their] role conflicts.

Conclusion 

It is clear that stronger, more direct leaders will be perceived as more influential and more successful. However, strong leaders should leverage strategies for creating employee buy-in and employee empowerment. This will help to avoid employee burnout and sustain a stronger organization over time.

It may be hard to act in a way that puts relationships and friendships in jeopardy, but if relationships and friendships are the backbone of your leadership style, you may find it harder to gain respect and authority.

In considering the development of positive relationships and friendships in the workplace, it is better to understand them as a welcome side effect (when they happen) to a leadership style. It is important to keep the idea of fairness in terms of “what is fair for the organization” and not “for the individual”. While this can be perceived as calloused to individual employees, the consistency of a global vision helps remove bias or narcissism from the chain of command.

Tommy Reddicks
Indianapolis, IN


 
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When speaking about affective leadership, many people would define it as individuals that can maintain large and complex organizations operating effectively.  This, however, is not leadership; it is management.  Management and leadership are two separate concepts.  

man·age·ment  
Noun
1. The process of dealing with or controlling things or people: "the management of deer".
2. The responsibility for and control of a company or similar organization: "the management of a newspaper".

lead·er·ship 
Noun
1.     The action of leading a group of people or an organization.
2.     The state or position of being a leader.

Management is a set of processes, like planning, staffing jobs, and evaluating work performance.  Though management is crucial for an organization to stay afloat, it is not leadership.  Leadership is taking an organization to its full potential, and finding opportunities for growth.  Leadership is about voicing the vision of the organization, and getting others to believe in it.  Most importantly, leadership is about producing change.  Leadership is more than a person’s “charisma,” but rather a person’s behavior, and how he/she promotes the vision of the organization.  Leadership can happen no matter where someone is in the hierarchy of the organization.  In order to have affective leadership, we first need to understand that leadership is not management. If we can do this, then the quality of leadership will be stronger and change can happen.  

Samantha Lingeman 
Indianapolis, IN 


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