Guest post by Clint Williams
Administrators are asked to wear a great many hats to represent a number of roles on any given day. Perhaps most important is the role of learning leader. While that role is often seen as the person who is ultimately responsible for ensuring student learning, it is also important to remember that principals and associate principals are responsible for staff learning as well. When you step back and look at this task, it can be a daunting—especially when you add in the managerial aspects of the position. In the Camas School District and at Skyridge Middle School, we have looked to the work of teacher leaders to help distribute that load. In the process, we have learned that our professional development has become much richer and more productive.
As a district, we have embraced two basic ideas in this process. The first is that we have a great deal of talent in our district from which we can all learn. The second is that no one person can be an expert in everything, but we can harness the power of those who are experts in their chosen areas. These two ideas have led to changes in the way that we deliver professional development.
Within the teacher contract is a professional development fund. Teachers spend about two thirds of the money on professional development of their own choice, including conferences, workshops, online courses, etc. Teachers use the remaining money to attend professional development classes taught by teachers from our own district. These offerings began with our teachers on special assignment as the instructors, but have since grown to include any teacher who wants to share their expertise with others. Some of these teachers have been recruited based on strengths that have been shared, while others volunteer. This has led to a wide range of course offerings including A Mindset for Learning Book Study, Extended Inquiry Workshop, My Anxious Mind Book Study, and Using Bridges Curriculum to Meet the Needs of All Students. As needs come up, we search for experts to teach those classes, and most of the time, we find people within our own ranks.
We have also applied the concept of shared leadership within Skyridge Middle School. We start each year by analyzing performance data in order to get a clear picture of the school and address student learning needs. Next, we ask our staff, “What do we want to learn in order to better help our students learn?” This question helps to focus our professional development on issues that are important to our staff. It has created a great deal of buy-in with the staff and has led to much more productive conversations. We have also looked to the experts in our staff to help us deliver this professional development. Many of our teachers have responded that our professional development sessions are more productive than ever.
This is not a new concept for us at Skyridge. We have had a Shared Leadership Team in place for the last eight years, but we learned a lot from our initial meetings this year. The power of choice, combined with the use of teacher leaders, can be valuable in developing a common vision and focus for a building or district staff.
How do you use teacher leaders in your building? How do you develop the leadership skills of those teachers or staff members?
Clint Williams is the principal at Skyridge Middle School in Camas, WA. He is the 2016 Washington State Assistant Principal of the Year.