• Sara Needleman and Abner Oakes

The Synergy of Teachers and School Leaders

A conversation between Sara and Abner

Abner: You know, Sara, you and I have interacted this past year with a lot of schools that are implementing standards-based grading. Some are doing it pretty magnificently, and I feel like I can make some generalizations about those places - that they seem to do a few similar things that make their implementation of standards-based grading really thoughtful and effective. The first for me? That they get teachers engaged with this change from the very start. This is not an initiative that can be handed down from on high - or at least there can be a significant lack of effectiveness when it is. Do you agree?

Sara: Completely. The implementation of standards-based practice is like any other significant change in a school. Unless the people who are on the front line of that change understand why they are making the change and how to make it, there is not much chance of success. I would add, too, that the teachers shifting to a standards-based practice really have to see value in it, and they absolutely must be well supported by their administrators in terms of resources and time needed and in terms of helping them help students and parents to understand the change.

Abner: You know: Great minds think alike. :) You mentioned the administrator and his or her importance to this change, and I’d been thinking about that person. Yes, the teachers are so critical to the change; their collective energy and thoughtfulness and willingness to risk, but I find more and more that there needs to be someone at the top, at some level of leadership, who has their back. Not just has their back but is also a promoter and fully understands the changes that are to come with a shift to a mastery approach. So, what is that balance, right? Between the teachers being the engine of this change and some school or district leader leading and supporting but doing so in a manner that does not usurp those teachers?

Sara: Yeah, that synergetic combination. I think that is what you mean. As is frequently the case when I think about what works well in a standards-based implementation, a few of our schools and districts come to mind. I have seen different models of that synergetic combination in action. In two cases, the district has a strong, very clear-eyed district level administrator who acts as a curricular thought-leader and touchstone for the teachers. In each case, the district leader has a great deal of control, but she has also engendered a high level of trust among the faculty. And I can think of two other cases where nearly all of the thinking, innovation, and decision-making rests at the teacher level. In those cases, I have heard the administrators defer to the teachers and fully respect their ideas and the leadership roles they have taken on.

Abner: Have I ever shared this article with you about building collective efficacy in schools? Collective teacher efficacy, as the article states, "refers to the perceptions of teachers that the efforts of the faculty as a whole will have a positive effect on students,” and the article goes on to discuss the specific ways that leaders can build that kind of movement, that kind of culture in their building. Sure, maybe the kind of thoughtful, synergetic place that you and I are describing can evolve organically - but more often than not it’s built very intentionally, by both teachers and school leaders.

Sara: I think that’s exactly what we at JumpRope are hoping for in our partner districts and schools - intentional involvement, and on many levels. Abner, our implementation benchmarks are designed to help our districts and schools look at their own practice. Their honest assessment of their work will help them move forward in precisely the way they need to do so. I’m really looking forward to our work with our current and future partners in 2015!

We got the above picture from here.

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