Guest post by Ryan Maxwell 

Teachers these days are constantly being told that they must “take ownership” for all of their students to meet the standards and succeed. But at the same time, teachers often receive mixed messages from their own school leadership that raise doubts about whether the leaders above them really believe in these goals. At Sunnyside High School (SHS) in Sunnyside, WA , our school leadership focuses on supporting teachers so that they can fully support their students. When teachers’ efficacy is high, they are much more likely to support their own students. The manner in which SHS leadership builds teacher efficacy is through a unified message of teacher ownership. It begins with administrative leadership believing and internalizing the following quote from the distinguished educator and author Carl D. Glickman:

“Teachers are in the forefront of successful instruction; supervision is in the background, providing support, knowledge, and skills that enable teachers to succeed. When improved instruction and school success do not materialize, supervision should shoulder responsibility for not permitting teachers to succeed.”

Along with the following guiding framework, there are three primary tools that our administrative team uses to build teacher efficacy.

Overall Conceptual Framework 

Figure 1 below illustrates the conceptual framework that guides our work at SHS. The three components of the framework are: Systems of Support, Academic Press, and Relational Trust. This guiding framework drives the interactions between administration, staff, and students, ensuring all systems of support are interacting effectively with one another.

Figure 1, Et al Dr. Salina, Gonzaga University

The “Garden” Approach to Administrative Accountability 

The Glickman quote above is a guiding principle for us as it sends a clear message to teachers that they are supported. Administration is in teachers’ classrooms every day, not only as evaluators, but rather as part of the overall support system. Hotspots are able to be diagnosed before they become systemic, thus allowing for administration to be freed up more to provide further support. At SHS, each assistant principal (five total) has a “garden” for which they are held accountable. Within a garden, they are expected to provide full support for their teachers. It appears that such efforts are paying off: In the last year, the state survey that teachers have taken since 2010 saw the statement “I believe all my students can be successful and meet standard,” increase in positive responses from 50 percent to over 92 percent.

The Data Dashboard: Real-Time Transparency for KPIs

The administrative team has defined key performance indicators (KPIs) for which they are each held accountable. Teachers in the building are aware of each administrator’s KPIs, and together they can track progress. Each administrator has a section of a data dashboard (see Figure 2 example) that has real-time data. This data is reviewed at a weekly administrative meeting and then filtered out through the Professional Learning Communities (PLC) by each administrator. The data is reviewed in the “Kaizen Mindset” and the “current reality” is determined from the live data. Based on these facts, the administrator determines the “ideal” and devises steps to move forward—thus, there is perpetual improvement within their “gardens.”

Figure 2

Final Note: Embrace Ingenuity and Failure

One last thing to note: In the current atmosphere of test scores and assessments, teachers must still have the ability to be creative without reprisal or without the concern of short-term failure. At SHS, administration has created “banks of the river” (adherence to standards, equity, and weekly collaboration) that teachers must abide by, but teachers are also encouraged to look at their classrooms as real-time-action research. Failure is not only acceptable, but it is often embraced. The trust with administrators and colleagues allows for teachers to feel safe to use their talents in a way they see fit.

What do you do within your building to develop teacher support systems and to build teachers’ efficacy? How would you envision yourself as a leader utilizing the SHS conceptual framework as you interact with staff and students? 

Ryan Maxwell is principal at Sunnyside High School in Sunnyside, WA, where he has worked for the past 19 years, first serving as a history teacher and assistant principal. He is the 2016 Washington State Principal of the Year. Follow him on Twitter @RyanMax65111533.

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