Principal Just Blew My Mind

Last week, we met with the principals and assistant principals as part of ongoing professional learning conversations. It has easily been over a year since we’ve been able to have such in-person and focused conversations, that didn’t involve COVID details. This was pure teaching, learning, leading, sharing, growing, and so forth.

This particular conversation centered on Leading the Rebound by Fisher, Frey, Smith, and Hattie. A monster resource for leaders. We leaned into and discussed ‘Teacher Agency’. The belief that what they do matters.

Great book, highly recommended!

We’ve had ongoing professional learning conversations with principals for years. The general expectation was that the principal would carry the conversations back to the building and share with her/his assistant principal(s).

This year, for a variety of good reasons, we decided to add mirror PL sessions for assistant principals. Mirror in the sense that the morning meeting with principals would be exactly replicated in the afternoon session with assistant principals. The conversations in both gatherings were healthy, honest, and engaging. The two meetings had, in my opinion, a different feel. That’s a topic for a later blogpost.

The principals were ‘strongly encouraged’ to gather with their assistant principal(s) at some point in the following week or two to share learnings, ideas, etc. In fact, one of the final items at each PL session was the task of writing down one action item to be used back in the building, with the idea being that the principal and assistant principal(s) would share with each other and use the sharing as the source of a professional conversation about how to better and better support teachers.

And then this happened.

I was with Mark Robinson, the principal at our junior high. We were discussing all of the above. He and his assistant principal, Chris Lezcano, had already talked through the learning sessions. That they had already done this did not surprise me. I know for a fact that the importance of collaborative professional learning conversations between building leaders in the same building is a top priority for them. They are the only admins in that building. Being on the same page is important. Anyway, Mark pointed to a section of his whiteboard where he and Chris had been thinking about things that had affected ‘teacher agency’ at the junior high. And one of the things they had written down blew my mind.

The Letdown of the Fall.

Wait. What? The Letdown of the Fall? The full return of kids to school, back to ‘normal’? A Letdown? What the heck?

I think by nature, successful educators tend to be positive outlook people. The idea of getting kids back in school was so exciting. Teachers being able to engage with kids directly, rather than through a screen, or in some cases, a blank screen, was a wonderful prospect. Sports, assemblies, spirit weeks. Sure there are masks requirements, distancing, testing, isolation rooms, sub challenges…..and….so….on.

Turns out that those things still have weight. Of course they do. We have returned. We haven’t returned to ‘normal’. We use the phrase ‘next normal’. Not ‘new normal’. ‘Next’. And next still has challenges. Daily, hourly, ongoing. Challenges.

So these two leaders found, discussed, and surfaced a challenge to teacher agency we had not discussed, but certainly requires discussion. The steps in the Teacher Agency section of the book are still perfect and make sense in rebuilding or reaffirming Teacher Agency. They will allow leaders to address Teacher Agency, including the Letdown of the Fall.

The most important part of all of this? That two busy building administrators made the time to talk, share, support, and grow together. Of course there’s not enough time to do anything most of the time. But if we don’t make the time to have these conversations, we are literally saying, “Everything else is more important than talking with my direct colleague building leader about how we can better and better support teachers.” And that just ain’t true.

The Letdown of the Fall will turn into the Rise of the Spring, after the Work of the Winter.

Thank Mark.

Author: Jeff Nelson

Jeff Nelson Fife School District Assistant Superintendent:Teaching-Learning-Innovation 38 years as an educator. 16 years teacher 3 years assistant principal 12 years principal 7 years Assistant Superintendent BA, Washington State University MAEd, Washington State University Previous member of AWSP Legislative Committee Previous member of UW Tacoma PEAB, Administrative Certification Established and maintained Fife’s first website for 7 years Present work includes establishing the first Teaching/Learning/Innovation department in the Fife School District. Examples of responsibilities include: teacher/administrator professional development, assessment, TPEP, curriculum/materials review, 24 credit requirement, technology levy leadership, teacher/administrator bargaining. Initiatives underway in Fife, as a result of new TLI Department: AVID, OER, Curriculum and Materials reviews, Student Perception Pilot with CSTP, Google Expedition Cofounder of Educational Internet Communications, LLC. Marketed and sold one of the first online grade checking programs in the US. Consulted with Seattle Educational Internet Company for 2 years. jnelson@fifeschools.com twitter.com/jeffnelsonTLI

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