During the 2013–14 school year, I was in my third year as assistant principal/registrar at Dubuque Senior High School. Our principal, Dr. Dan Johnson, was in his first year as principal after serving many years as a counselor and assistant principal at the school. Good things were happening at Dubuque Senior, and school culture was positive. However, we needed a push forward to help make everything come together. The 2014 NASSP Ignite Conference provided that push.

Dr. Johnson and I arrived at the conference hoping to see what other schools were implementing that we might utilize at Dubuque Senior. We attended many breakout sessions where high schools shared successful strategies. Many times, we stayed after the session to ask presenters follow-up questions, and our evenings involved conversations focused on how our new learning fit at our school. At the end of the conference, we were excited to get back and start pushing forward.

Our first action steps upon returning involved conversations with our school leadership team. The conversations, combined with the ideas garnered from the conference, led us to a school plan to push us forward. Our plan focused on two areas. While we had a positive school culture, our plan involved developing core values that we could use as a way to enhance that culture amongst all stakeholders in our school community. Our other area of focus involved better use of data to enhance all parts of our school.

The development of our core values was a true school community endeavor. Our school leadership team developed a protocol to use with various groups aimed at determining our core values. The protocol included small group discussions involving students, staff, and parents regarding what is at the core of having and maintaining a positive school culture. Ultimately, these discussions led us to the core values of respect, engagement, and integrity.

Furthermore, a district initiative enhanced our focus on data. Our district collaborated with Research for Better Teaching to provide training for school leadership teams on collaborative inquiry. Data-driven dialogues (DDD) were a key component of this professional learning. These dialogues are a formal process for a collaborative group to focus on a specific set of data. The outcome of DDD is a plan forward, based on what the data reveals. Our school leadership team trained our staff on implementing data-driven dialogues, and these sessions became a focus during our school professional learning. Collaborative groups used DDD to focus on formative and summative assessment data, behavior data, attendance data, or whatever other data was available to help push our school forward.

The push provided by the 2014 Ignite Conference helped get us started down this school improvement path. The willingness of presenters to share their story helped us shape our story. I started a new role this year as the principal at George Washington Middle School. This past summer I attended the 2018 National Principals Conference in Chicago to make new connections and to continue to learn from colleagues. I hope that in a few years I will be able to write about how this conference pushed George Washington Middle School forward to a brighter future!

What could use a push forward at your school? How could the 2019 National Principals Conference help provide that push?

Brian Howes has served as a teacher, instructional coach, curriculum coordinator, and administrator in the Dubuque Community School District for the past 20 years. He received the 2018 Iowa Assistant Principal of the Year award while serving as assistant principal/registrar at Dubuque Senior High School. Currently he serves as the principal of Washington Middle School in Dubuque, IA. Follow him on Twitter @BrianHowes.

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