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The Principal’s Role as a Leader of Change

Critical Element Paper #3 Presented to the Department of Educational Leadership and Postsecondary Education University of Northern Iowa

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Advanced Studies Certificate

by Kelly K. Westley Waterloo, IA August 8, 2012

Dr. Charles McNulty

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Introduction to Change in American Schools Since the 1983 Nation at Risk Report politicians, school leaders, and prominent business leaders have been calling for change in our public schools. The push for high stakes testing and accountability is at an all time high and the pressures of teaching only increase. I believe this call for change began when Russia launched Sputnik. The United States then engaged in the space race and States needed to produce students who could compete in the areas of math and science. This problem was only compounded when the United States began slipping on International test scores, like the TIMSS. American culture promotes a need to be number one and this need has prompted major push for educational reform. Some politicians and even educators believe American students should be number one in the world and schools should be producing students that can compete in a global market. In my lifetime, there have been major changes to how we do things in education. The most glaring change would be higher accountability with No Child Left Behind. This has also increased the amount of funding to some schools. Although, structurally schools function the same as they did in the past for instance, class size, curriculum, and academic calendars. I believe instructionally things have changed drastically. I believe in education the pendulum swings back and forth depending on society and politics. Research in Change Todd Whitaker’s book, What Great Principals do Differently, outlines fifteen guidelines to follow in becoming an effective leader. The chapter that most strongly connects with change leadership is chapter 11, “base every decision on your best teachers” (Whitaker, T., 2003, p. 67). By using this adage as their guide principals will truly be able to effect change in their schools.

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Principals will effect change by having the confidence to “seek input in advance and feedback after the fact” from “superstar” teachers (Whitaker, 2003, p. 69). Whitaker goes on to write about the fact that by making people uncomfortable either they change or they leave. By promoting effective teachers and making those who are ineffective uncomfortable those striving will either make the change or they will. In an article written by Desna Wallin about promoting change leaders in today’s community colleges, he wrote “contemporary change leaders must look critically at their organization and the environment in which it functions.” (Wallin D., 2010, p 6) He goes on to write “change leaders build inclusive learning communities and seek out new leaders to encourage and mentor. (Wallin D., 2010, p 6) This is idea of seeking out and building new leaders is the key to successful and sustained change. This connects to Whitaker’s (2003) notion that a teacher vacancy is one of the most precious commodities a principal has, if principals choose to fill those vacancy with new leaders with whom they can mentor and encourage the change process can continue to grow. Qualities to Produce Change Leaders who are able to promote change exhibit a number of qualities. First, a leader must be knowledgeable. They must have both instructional and organizational knowledge. They also hold many of McCrel’s 21 characteristics of effective leaders, situational awareness, optimizer, and flexibility. Situational awareness will allow a leader to identify the change readiness of their building. If their building is not in a place that is ready for change, they must choose to move on or empower their staff to become ready for a change. A change leader must be an optimizer inspiring those around them to take on “new and challenging innovations.”

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(Marzano et al., 2005, p 43) This ability to optimize and be situationally aware must also be accompanied by flexibility. Principals who are inflexible are ones who are unwilling to change. A leader of change must also be a leader of service who is able to involve his staff in the change process. Sorenson wrote, “it’s a fatal error not to use collaboration in curriculum matters.” (Sorenson et al., 2011, p 11) He goes on to cite Sawyer (2007) who write, “innovation never comes from a single insight; rather, it comes from a series of insights.” (Sorenson et al., 2011, p 11) A leader of change may feel they have a brilliant idea, but without collaboration in development of that idea it is likely the change will not occur. Connections to ISSL It is evident that to become a change agent you must be strong in all ISSL standards, however I believe it would be necessary to be extremely adapt in ISSL 1 and ISSL 6. As a change leader you must have a vision and be able to share that vision with your constituents. One of the hardest factors in creating change is obtaining buy-in from those involved. Ronald Reagan was named, the great communicator, because he was so adept in sharing his visions with his followers. This ability to communicate allowed him to serve two terms as president, because he created buy-in with the American people. This is a critical component to becoming a change agent. (Pach, C., 1976) Political leadership is also key, as change agent requires influence with higher powers up, they must be savvy at playing the political game so they can move ahead with their agendas. Leaders of change know when the right time to push for change occurs and when it is time to take a step back.

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Becoming a Change Agent I have done a number of things over the past several years to become a leader of change in the buildings I have worked in. First, I was a member of our literacy cadre, a team leading our teachers in the new literacy curriculum. In participating as a member of a team I was required to attend professional developments to learn the new content and then facilitate developments for my staff. In this position as a special education co-teacher I was charged with pioneering the way for others and leading by example. Although, we had many other initiatives in our district I needed to find the time to make sure I was implementing my new learning in my everyday teaching and planning with my teammates. As a member of a phenomenal team we were able to work together to implement new initiatives with high levels of efficiency as noted by the growth in our students as well as observations from outside trainers. All of our students made academic growth in the area of reading as noted on the DRA2 our district reading assessment, it was more difficult to track progress in math because of the new curriculum. After changing buildings it was very evident that my second building was much further behind in the adoption of this new curriculum. As a building leader I had to re-assess the situation and slow down the process. It was very difficult to move backwards, but the staff at Irving was not prepared to move forward without first learning the basics. I now step into a new role as a special education instructional coach working with three buildings. This will be even more of a challenge as each building will be in a different place in the change process. I feel fortunate to be working at Lincoln, a building paving the way for our new literacy curriculum. I will take my experience from Lincoln and learn from that to assist in the implementation at my other two buildings, but always keeping the end in mind.

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I have also been involved in a huge overhaul in special education for the Waterloo Schools. Over the last several years administration has changed and focus has changed. Currently, our least restrictive environment (LRE) numbers are abysmal compared to the rest of the state. And our district is far from reaching the state’s goal of 80% of the students included in general education classes 80% of the day or more. With our district’s focus on improving LRE the district has adopted co-teaching as a method for addressing concerns. Waterloo utilizes Marilyn Friend’s five co-teaching models. I have been fortunate to be a building leader in coteaching. In this capacity I have had other teachers come to observe myself and my general education counterpart to model effective co-teaching in a classroom. As I continue my quest to promote LRE and inclusive classrooms in my new position I will again need to be aware of the change readiness of the buildings I will be working in. The biggest mistake I have encountered is administrators moving from a more self-contained and pull-out program to full inclusion. As an instructional leader I will promote thoughtful change, continuing to provide students with a continuum of services. Last, over the summer I was part of team charged with re-defining the role of special education teachers. Waterloo will no longer refer to special education teachers as such, but instead they will be instructional strategists (as printed on their license). As a member of this team we identified five main components of an instructional strategist. This shift in thinking has not yet been shared with teachers of administrators and will be very difficult for some to swallow. As a special education instructional coach it will my task to help former special education teachers begin to view themselves as instructional strategists. I will need to foster and build capacity in my teachers. And as always I will need to situational aware of where teachers are and where I can help them get to.

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References Marzano, R.J., McNulty, B.A., & Waters, T., (2005). School Leadership that Works: From Research to Results. Alexandria, VA: Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning. Pach, C., (1976). Commentary on Republican National Convention. Kansas City, MO. Sorenson, R.D., Goldsmith, L.M., Mendez, Z.Y., & Maxwell, K.T. (2011). The Principal’s Guide to Curriculum Leadership. London, United Kingdom: Corwin. Whitaker, T. (2003). What Great Principals Do Differently: Fifteen Things That Matter Most. Larchmont, N.Y.: Eye on Education. Wallin, D. L. (2010). Looking to the future: Change leaders for tomorrow's community colleges. New Directions For Community Colleges, (149), 5-12.