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Leader of Learning

Critical Element Paper #4 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 December 20, 2012

Dr. Charles McNulty

Leader of Learning How important is it for a principal to have experience as an effective teacher? I believe this is one very important characteristic of an effective principal and especially a leader of learning. Strategies that work with students can also work with adults, just as we have to model valuable strategies for students this is the same for adults, „lead by example‟. This particular aspect of leadership is a critical factor in both successful leadership, but also strongly connects to being a leader of change. Instructional leadership takes knowledge of current research and changes occurring in education. It also takes the ability to take research and effectively implement those ideas into practice. Research A leader of learner should also be an instructional coach for those on her staff. Although, for a principal it is not feasible to use all of Knight‟s (2007) coaching principals, some still apply. For example, instructional coaches employ a variety of professional development procedures to foster widespread, high-quality implementation of interventions, providing “on-the-job” learning (p. 13). Another important consideration as a leader of learning Knight brings to light is the importance of professional development and being mindful of what and how development occurs in your school. Knight conducted a study to determine why teachers act the way they do during professional development. He interviewed 23 teachers and two administrators for one hour asking them the same set of questions. Five themes were found “(a) a history of interpersonal conflict with other teachers; (b) a historical belief that professional development is impractical; (c) a feeling of being overwhelmed by the tasks they need to complete as teachers; (d) resentment about the top-down decision-making in the district; and (e) anxiety about changes taking place in their schools” (p. 10). Although this was a small scale study, I have heard these

same themes come out in many conversations I have had with teachers over the years. Therefore, it is crucial for principals to keep these perceptions in mind when facilitating professional development for staff. Over the course of the last two years of study at UNI we have discussed many ways to dispel the beliefs above, it will be key to remember those ideas once in a leadership position. Discussed extensively on our evaluator approval course this fall was the importance of providing teachers with effective feedback. In an article written by Grant Wiggins (2012) he discusses seven ways to provide feedback. He states, “helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent” (p. 10). Feedback is a critical aspect of being a leader of learning and in turn helping teachers become more effective within their craft, feedback should lead to coaching conversations with teachers. These discussions should occur both in pre and post observation conferences as well as during professional learning opportunities. Which means it is critical that principals participate in professional development with staff as well as data teams. Data teams can be high impact times for leaders to engage in coaching conversations with staff members to assist them in growing as professionals. Robin Jackson (2009) writes about „strategic conversations‟ which are described as, “a series of targeted, individualized interactions with teachers that are designed to help them significantly improve their instruction” (p. 44). Strategic conversations are much like coaching conversations, but fit better with the role of principal versus coach. Jackson goes on to describe strategic conversations: “leader and the teacher identify problems and develop solutions to instructional challenges. Such interaction gives teachers the support and structure they need to eventually make their own choices about how they will resolve their instructional challenges and

grow as professionals” (p. 44). In utilizing coaching principals, effective feedback, professional learning communities and strategic conversations a principal can be an exemplar leader of learning. Facilitating Professional Growth I have always been interesting in participating in my own professional growth. After teaching for two years I was offered an assistantship at UNI and took a year off to get my master‟s in education (special education). I continued to grow professional deciding to apply to the principalship program at UNI and work on my advanced certificate in educational leadership over the last two years. My professional growth started my first year of teaching; I participated in many additional classes outside of school. I have taken classes offered through the AEA about: autism, beginning reading, KU strategies, Investigating the Iowa Core and IEP compliance. As I have grown professionally I have gained an immense amount of knowledge around providing students with quality instruction. This knowledge has assisted me with providing assistance to teachers in planning for instruction. I can develop teachers on an individual basis with my experience and the current role I have as a special education instructional coach. Furthermore, I feel I have modeled for others the importance of professional growth through my efforts to continue developing myself with additional schooling and classes. ISSL Connections There are many ISSL connections in becoming a leader of learning. The strongest connections would be to ISSL two: instructional leadership, creating a culture of learning. The criterion for instructional leadership includes: Provides leadership for assessing, developing and improving climate and culture, provides leadership, encouragement, opportunities and structure for staff to continually

design more effective teaching and learning experiences for all students, evaluates staff and provides ongoing coaching for improvement, ensures staff members have professional development that directly enhances their performance and improves student learning, and uses current research and theory about effective schools and leadership to develop and revise his/her professional growth plan. (Iowa Standards for School Leaders, 2013) These criteria all fit with being a leader of learning; principals who exhibit qualities such as these will be effective school leaders exemplifying a leader of learning. Leader of learning also connects with ISSL one, visionary leadership. The first step in becoming a leader of learning is making sure your staff shares a common vision for your school. It is important to have buy-in and support from all stakeholders, therefore a leader of learning must have knowledge and expertise in the ideas they wish their stakeholders to share. The criteria, “articulates and promotes high expectations for teaching and learning” from ISSL one promotes the idea of a leader of learning leading by example and holding high ideals for those working with them (Iowa Standards for School Leaders, 2013). A leader of learning must also understand the societal implications of how students are being taught within their school. Therefore, there are also connections with ISSL six; an instructional leader must know “the profile of the community and responding to, and influencing the larger political, social, economic, legal and cultural context” (Iowa Standards for School Leaders, 2013). This connection takes a sense of with-it-ness that goes beyond the school walls. A leader of learning must be a savvy communicator, able to explain and „sell‟ educational change to outside stakeholders. Furthermore, knowing the profile of the school‟s surrounding community, a leader of learning must be mindful when choosing new educational strategies and

practice. As Dr. Wilson (2012) states, “anything words for somebody and nothing works for everybody.” A leader of learning should seek out educational practices to implement that worked in schools and communities similar to theirs. My Actions as an Aspiring Leader of Learning I have been fortunate over the last several years to be chosen to serve on a number of professional learning committees. First, I was our building‟s special education liaison which meant I was responsible for attending professional developments; I would take those learnings back to my building. I also served as the „go to‟ person in the building if teachers had questions around Individualized Education Plan (IEP) compliance. I also served on our building‟s Literacy Cadre which followed a similar format, however there was more flexibility in the how to present the new learning to the staff. This experience helped me grow, as we were much more thoughtful on how we would present the information to the staff, no more sit and get. Finally, I have moved into a position this year that has afforded me many opportunities in developing my skills as a leader of learning. As a special education instructional coach I have many responsibilities as a leader of learning. First, I have information to share with special education teachers. I also am responsible for observing in classrooms and providing feedback. I spend a lot of time sitting down and planning lessons with teachers as well as looking and assessment data to plan for instruction. My favorite part of the job is having the opportunity to go into classrooms and model effective instructional strategies for teachers with their students. Conclusion There are many important aspects in developing skills as a leader of learning. I have been fortunate to already have many experiences to build my instructional foundation. I understand there a many factors to remain cognoscente of as a leader of learning. As I have

worked through the program at UNI I have realized that instructional leader is the most important part of leadership for me. This is my niche and where I see myself making the most change.

References Jackson, R. R. (2009). Strategic Conversations. Principal Leadership, 9(6), 44-49. Knight, J. (2000). Another damn thing we’ve got to do: Teacher Perceptions of Professional Development. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA. Knight, J. (2007). Instructional coaching: A Partnership Approach to Improving Instruction. Thousand Oak, CA: Corwin. Wiggins, G. (2012). 7 Keys to Effective FEEDBACK. Educational Leadership, 70(1), 10.