Leading a school is incredibly challenging task under any circumstances.

It is made even more complex when a school leader is determined to focus her energies on the school’s core function: teaching and learning. Many New York City Transfer School principals have taken on this work, adopting reDESIGNu.net’s Framework for Effective Instruction as a way to support teachers in meeting the needs of overage and under-credited youth. As in all aspects of its work, reDESIGNu.net’s approach to instructional leadership is rooted in both strong research and exemplars of good practice. What follows here is a set of indicators of strong instructional leadership, with examples from the work of Liliana Pollo (Founding Principal of W. Brooklyn Community High School since 2006) and Seth Schoenfeld (Founding Principal of Olympus Academy High School since 2008. reDESIGNu.net worked closely with both principals during their first two years as instructional leaders. A Typical Day in the Life of Liliana Pollo, Founding Principal of W . Brooklyn Com munity High School: • Lili’s day is primarily comprised of six tasks: o Top priority: meetings with her cabinet and helping leaders on staff including coaches o Second priority: conducting at least one observation every day o Address student crises and follow-up with Advocate Counselors on students o Conversations with teachers in which she makes sure she is always checking in with them, re-telling the story of the mission of the school, and going back to why they are here (to help these students in a strength-based environment) o Push the school-wide discussion of instruction (other than through observations) in the form of feedback on weekly lesson plans and planning and co-creating agendas for PD o In conversations with Lili about her job she doesn’t even mention paperwork and regulatory issues, though she has increasingly made the DOE requirements a part of her conversations with teachers about instruction. Goal-setting with teachers is now synonymous with goal-setting with departments which is synonymous with goal-setting for the DOE. A Typical Day in the Life of Seth Schoenfeld, Founding Principal of Olym pus High School: • Seth only works at his desk between 7-9am and 2:30-7pm: conducting meetings, responding to emails, and completing DOE paperwork. From 9-2:30, he keeps his schedule as clear as he can. In that time, he o Always goes to lunch with the students. That’s when he does a lot of interacting with students

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Is always in the hallways during passing. Does different levels of observations: peek in the window of classrooms 15 times a week, do a quick observation and leave a Post-It note with brief feedback 3-10 times a week, do a longer observation 1-3 times a week. Meets with his program director at least once a day. Otherwise, meets with staff (both teachers and counselors) throughout the day

Communicates a moral vision about student capacity: Seth
• Repetition is key. He reiterates the core ideas all the time every time he can: o We are teaching skills and content o We want teachers to be fluent at using higher-order thinking o We want teachers to teach, assess, and analyze data on higher-order thinking o Regents is not enough. We want students to be ready for postsecondary success. A parent came to parent night in disbelief at her student’s grades: She was asking if we were being easier on him. The truth is, that student was engaging in high-level rigorous critical thinking. It’s just that no one had given him the chance before. We removed obstacles.

Nurtures a communal sense of responsibility for every child: Lili:
• • • Lili constantly reiterates a few key messages: (a) we’re doing this for the students, (b) we are a strength-based culture, (c) we are teaching higher-order thinking skills. Lili explicitly states the rules and norms of the school all the time. She is intentionally creating a culture. Whenever there’s a struggle, she goes back to the model: we’re strength-based so how are we building on students’ strengths? We are trying to promote student achievement, so how is this promoting student achievement? Lili on her approach: The first message I want everyone to understand is that we believe in students. The second is that I believe in them. I want them to believe they can make a difference. What’s key is that he’s supportive of teachers and it’s clear that he’s 100% in it for the students. Seth would never try to embarrass you, but he’ll lay down the law. When he got mad at a group of teachers for arriving late on a PD day, he said, “I work with you all all the time. Right now I’m really upset. We tell students to be on time. This is what we demand of them. We can’t demand it of them if I can’t demand it of you.”

Seth
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Able to develop specific interventions around instructional/cultural problems: Lili:
• Lili on her approach: “When giving feedback, I try to stay very targeted: 1 very tangible change that can be made by next lesson, (for instance, “What is the objective of this lesson?”) and 1 more long-term goal (for instance, “You need to stick to the plan for your lesson and not stray from it.”).”

Lili first built trust by (1) sharing stories, (2) having community events after-school, (3) showing earnestness in the work and reminding people that she is working her ass off, (4) staying sufficiently focused that she would always follow through. Having built trust, Lili questions people all the time while listening to their responses in order to try to arrive at an answer. Questions are very direct and usually in the form of “What if…” or “Why couldn’t we…?”

Seth: • When I had a nightmare class, I would come to Seth twice a week to talk to him. His door would always be open and he would brainstorm what to do. We came up with more interactive lessons, more discovery than explanation, and other approaches.

Able to recognize, analyze and nurture powerful teaching: Lili

Lili is willing to look at the failings of the school, re-examine, and respond to ideas. There is a desire to increase rigor, and she is constantly going back and revising. For instance, in “compare and contrast” questions, students would simply state the facts about one story and another. I wanted them to get to deeper thinking. I brought this up with Lili and she would discuss it and think out with me ways to push it deeper. We had a discussion about Bloom’s in PD which led me go back to my assignments and rewrite questions to be higher level. It’s easy to forget but she is always reminding us. In the weekly feedback on lesson plans, she has asked me, “Could you ask students to make this connection themselves.” She pushes me to ask students to make meaning instead of doing it for them. When I was meeting with her (meeting with Lili and math coach), I said I wanted students to understand math and not just algorithms, and she asked: “What does that mean?” Critical thinking has been a clear, explicit focus from the beginning. The Summer PD we had before the school started revolved around Bloom’s Taxonomy. Observations also revolve around Bloom’s. At every training, it’s mentioned. In feedback, Seth and always addresses what level of thinking we’re getting from students and why. Everything we do revolves around Blooms and scaffolding towards Blooms. It’s in our observations, our staff meetings, our goals, everything. With each teacher he sets 1 long-term goals (i.e., the ability to fuse content and skill with a purpose) and 2 medial goals that come from him asking the teacher, “What does that look like?” For instance, “Develop more hands-on, engaging activities” Then he asks what support they need to meet the goals, and he finds that most of what they ask for he can provide.

Seth

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Has Consistent Systems for Monitoring Performance: Lili:
• Lili chooses people who take pride in what they do, agree to a standard of hard work, and are willing to reflect on their own practice and change. The expectations are consistent across the school, but she meets people where they are. She is in the classroom very often—observing every week and always talking about it afterwards.

There are lots of meetings and procedures: weekly department meeting, weekly meeting with counselors, weekly meeting with instructional mentor, weekly observations, weekly lesson outlines due, biweekly benchmark assessments. At my previous school, my grades were basically guestimates based on exams, attendance, and effort. Here, the biweekly assessments force me to think about grades and review and revise my approach all the time.

Uses Evaluation Effectively Lili:
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Lili asks for weekly lesson outlines from every teacher and gives feedback every week, using Sunday night and Monday night to write feedback to every teacher. Lili is straight up with people. Many of her second-year hires were not good—either a good teacher who didn’t buy into strength-based culture, or someone who wass strength-based but doesn’t have the intellect to handle the development of students’ higher-order thinking skills—in both cases, she counseled people out. She also gives U ratings to people who are unsatisfactory and uses that as part of a process of discussing how they can improve.

Able to ask for/get help: Lili:

Lili was willing to learn from her reDESIGN coach. She didn’t just want to take a model as it existed, but wanted to adapt it to the unique aspects of a transfer school—the trimester schedule, the benchmark system, the approach to intake. She was thinking about what it meant to her from the start. Lili did some model lessons using H.O.T., but she hadn’t taught that way before, so she would take hours to plan lessons. She would experiment herself instead of experimenting on us. She wanted higher-order thinking to be the one central concept guiding the school, but she didn’t know how to do that herself. She went out of her way to learn and try everything so that she could understand it alongside Lew. Lili on her own work: “I have to meet teachers where they are. I found that I was having trouble supporting the math and science teachers because that’s not my expertise. So I studied up on math and science. I didn’t try to become an expert, but when they sent in their weekly outlines, I Googled the content and learned more. That allowed me to give them criticism and suggestions about how to focus on skills.”

Has a growing capacity to work with adults Lili:
• Lili will put major questions on the table for us to discuss – pushing us to be thoughtful. For instance, at a recent PD we did an agree/disagree activity with the statement, “It is our responsibility that each student graduates ready for college.” She tells the truth and expects me to think. I’ve never had a boss who had those real expectations before. She opts for common sense over regulations.” Lili stays focused. She works with people where they are. She gives me feedback on lessons after every observation and every week in my lesson outlines. But she stays focused on the 2 goals we set. You can tell that she’d like to have everything, but she recognizes that it’s developmental. You need to start somewhere and she has the patience to wait for that.

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Seth: • Seth helps us develop ideas. For instance, a teacher wanted to do a Math and Social Justice class, and Seth responded by asking what it would look, how it would work, etc. • Seth doesn’t tell us what to do. Instead, he asks us, “What were the strengths and challenges in the lesson?” He never tells you you’re wrong, instead he says; “Here’s what I see happening. What can you do next?” He models metacognition with us, just what we’re supposed do with students. • Seth helps us to get our thoughts together. • If you have an idea, he’ll let you run with it. But he won’t just step back and let you go. He’ll ask “If this is your idea, what are you going to do about it?” Then he’ll ask you to outline some ideas “Let’s talk about it. What will you do?” • For Seth, it’s all about managing personal relationships. It’s not about making people happy, but rather understanding people well enough and them understanding you well enough to know that your goal is to support them so that they can support students. No one is more important than the students, so if it comes down to a conflict between staff and student, they know I’ll always side with the student.

Distributes leadership Lili:
• Lili views the leaders on staff as the most important people to help everyone succeed, and views her role as developing those leaders, so that she ends up scheduling and spending significant amounts of time with coaches and emerging leaders and offering lots of opportunities for people to be those leaders. She has progressively given more responsibilities to others on staff: Started with everyone in the new school involved, then formed a Leadership Team in the second year, made up of a core group of veteran staff and made one teacher into AP, now has two teacher leaders, a Cabinet, and AP. Lili wants us all to be leaders: she puts us in roles mentoring other teachers. She gives us roles in PD.

Seth: • He believes in developing his staff. He gives you responsibilities and he’ll say, “I want to develop leaders.”