School principals receive leadership training

Tierney Harvey
Posted 7/19/17

FLEMING ISLAND – Usually it’s the students with homework to do, but in July, the principals were given assignments.

With the launch of a professional learning partnership with the University …

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School principals receive leadership training

Posted

FLEMING ISLAND – Usually it’s the students with homework to do, but in July, the principals were given assignments.

With the launch of a professional learning partnership with the University of Florida’s Lastinger Center, Clay County Schools principals received training on July 11-13. The training, which is designed to improve the quality of teaching and student learning outcomes, was held at the Fleming Island High School Teacher Training Center.

“This training provides school leaders with protocols for having collegial conversations about school improvement and improving student achievement,” said Terri Stahlman, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “Those protocols are basically strategies to engage teachers in conversation, meaningful conversation, around their data and around their thinking and problem solving.

Stahlman went through the program as a principal in Duval County and said she saw impressive results.

Stahlman said she worked for an underperforming Duval County school when she participated in the training, and credited the program for the school’s climb in grade from D to A.

“It was a great experience. I had been a principal in three different schools and had 30 years’ experience under my belt when I went through it,” Stahlman said, “and I found it super valuable and I learned lots of new stuff that I use today in my practice.”

On July 13, school leaders learned about a protocol called Save the Last Word For Me, in which they broke into small groups to share their ideas and thoughts on the assigned reading. The protocol asked that one person share what they thought was the most important part of the reading, then hear responses from the others before speaking again to explain why they found it important.

The principals also developed inquiries tailored to their schools. They were asked to identify a problem or area of concern, develop a plan to address it, implement that plan and reflect on the results. Through the program, principals submit an action plan and video explanation to Lastinger Center researchers, who review the plan. The group meets again in a few months, where they can discuss their results.

“I think it’s going to be really important this year in Clay because we have so many new instructional initiatives in our schools,” Stahlman said.

Teachers use inquiry, or instructional learning, every day, according to the Lastinger Center instructors. They observe what works and what doesn’t in their own classrooms and stay up to date on relevant research and data. Principals should do the same, the instructors argued, emphasizing the importance of data literacy, which includes accessing data as well as determining what data is useful.

“The exercise they’re doing today where principals actually self-assess their work through videotaping and inquiry-based learning, gives principals a chance to self-critique and analyze where they need to improve in their own practice of coaching and leading teachers,” Stahlman said.

Middleburg Elementary School Principal Becky Wilkerson said she was excited to get to work and put the protocols learned into practice.

Wilkerson said she was reading and learning, “but also collaborating with my colleagues. We’re learning from each other.”

“We’re actually going to use our school data and our students and our teachers to develop a plan of action around where we need to improve” Wilkerson said, “and which teachers we want to work with to do the work, to involve them.”

Wilkerson said she heard other people working on science and English Language Arts, while she worked on math.

“I think the teachers are gonna’ like it too because they’re gonna’ feel empowered to do the work themselves, to look at their own practices in their classrooms and what is working and why it is working, just questioning and sharing that with each other,” Wilkerson said.

Stahlman said principals bring the protocols they learn and implement them in meetings and discussions with teachers, which improves communication and allows the teachers to be a part of the process, instead of just being told what to do.

“When you’re a beginning teacher, or a new employee anywhere, you sit and listen and you’re not sure what to say,” Stahlman said. “This gave them an opportunity to have voice and choice in their work.

Wilkerson said the training is part of a year-long process and follow-up meetings give the principals a chance to discuss what they did and how their plans worked.

The Lastinger Center instructors said it is important for principals to look at instructional learning in their schools because it gives more credibility to their decisions. They can back up their choices by science and data, she said. The purpose is to get school leaders engaging in conversations and getting colleagues to support each other.

“I think we’re gonna’ see more robust conversations taking place in schools between leaders and teachers and much more collaboration,” Stahlman said, explaining that the method is non-threatening. “It’s questioning, it’s probing, it’s inquiry. It’s not the principal being the problem solver or directing any of the conversation. They’re just facilitating.”

Wilkerson said, “You’re sharing the work and the knowledge and you’re not having to figure it all out on your own.”

The Lastinger Center, a part of UF’s College of Education, aims to expand teacher training and improve retention in low-performing schools. Programs like this one give teachers and principals resources.

“The UF Lastinger Center will work closely with principals to develop a strong cadre of instructional leaders that have profound expertise and substantial success in advancing teaching and learning outcomes,” according to Nicole Snyder, Clay County Schools coordinator of communications and media partnerships.

Principals were urged to participate in mini-inquiries in order to solve small, tangible problems. The Lastinger Center leaders said they recognize that school leaders have many responsibilities, and the inquiry system does not require them to write extensive research papers.

The training allows each principal to design a plan based on their school’s individual needs.

“I think it’s going to create a very positive collaborative environment,” Stahlman said.

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