Being an Effective Headteacher
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Leadership and the transformation of failing schools Armed with what we've learned about the potential for leadership over the last decade, we have cause for optimism that the education community's long neglect of leadership is at last coming to an end. We still have a lot to learn, but we have already learned a great deal. In the face of this growing body of knowledge and experience, it is clear that now is the time to step up efforts to strengthen school leadership.
Without effective principals, the national goal we've set of transforming failing schools will be next to impossible to achieve. Linda Darling-Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University. One of the nation's leading authorities on education policy as well as teachers and the teaching profession, Darling-Hammond has served on The Wallace Foundation's board of directors since She was interviewed in April by Lucas Held, Wallace's communications director.
These are edited excerpts of the interview. Lucas Held: What do we know about the link between effective teaching and good principals?
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Linda Darling-Hammond: That comes up in survey after survey. If you ask teachers, "What kept you in a school that you're in? It is possible to be an effective teacher in a poorly led school but it's not easy. That takes a toll. And it is possible to become an ever more effective and successful teacher in a well-led school.
Teachers go into the profession to be successful with kids. If they are working with a leadership team led by a principal who understands what it takes to be successful with kids, how the organization should be organized, what kind of supports need to be there, how learning for teachers can be encouraged as well as learning for students, how to get the community and the parental supports in place, that lets the teacher do her or his job effectively and achieve the most important intrinsic motivation: success with kids. LDH: You would think it would be obvious. But in schools where there has not been much cultivation of leaders, there is often a hunkering down and just saying, "Well, there's leadership over [t]here and there's teaching over here.
LH: How do principals and teachers work together to create a collaborative focus on learning? LDH: In thriving schools you have a professional learning community. If there isn't one, it's something that teachers and leaders have to build together, getting past the closed-door culture which is often inherited in schools: "We're all doing our own thing in our own classroom. Leaders who are effective often have a distributed leadership approach. The principal functions as a principal teacher who is really focusing on instruction along with [and] by the side of teachers - not top down mandates and edicts.
When principals are trying to help create such a culture, [they] begin to open the doors and say, "Let's talk about our practice. Let's show our student work. Let's go look at each other's classrooms and see what we're doing.
How exec. heads change school leadership
One of the best practices that I've seen when new cultures are being planted is holding the faculty meeting in a different room every time and allowing teachers to talk about strategies they're using that are proving successful. Being willing to open your door and say, "Here's what's going on in my little kingdom here" is the beginning of planting seeds to create a collaborative culture where learning is always building on what teachers and leaders are doing together.
LH: Is it your sense that most schools are operating this way or does this remain the exception? LDH: More and more teachers are willing and eager to collaborate with one another. More and more leaders are becoming aware of how important that is. But it is certainly not everywhere. There [was] an interesting survey not long ago, The Schools and Staffing Survey, which the federal government does. It asked teachers, "How many of you have the opportunity to collaborate with each other?
What it says to me is that we have a little bit of collaboration going around everywhere, but we have a lot of collaboration going on in very few places.
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One reason for that is that we design our schools in most cases still in the United States based on the factory model of years ago, where the idea was that teachers are only working when they're in classrooms instructing children. If you look at schools in many countries in Europe and Asia, teachers have about 15 hours a week or more where they collaborate with each other on planning, to do action research, to do lesson study, to go into each other's classrooms and look at what they're doing, to meet with parents and students about issues that have come up or that they're trying to address.
That differential use of time allows teachers to continually get better at what they're doing. We need to restructure schools to be able to do that. LH: What you're saying, in a sense, is that a collaborative learning environment is so important that time needs to be carved out to focus on building that work. LDH: That's right - and being sure that whenever somebody is doing something right, it's getting shared, and whenever somebody has a problem, they have people to go to to help them solve their problem. They find that there's much greater gain in student achievement in a school when people work collaboratively in teams and when teams of teachers stay together over a period of time and build their collective know ledge and collective capacity.
The whole can be greater than the sum of the parts. That's one of the major jobs of good leadership. LGH: I think so for many reasons. One is so that [they] know what to expect. I often use the metaphor of the conductor of the orchestra.
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We watch the conductor, we're in the audience and we say, "I could do that. Piece of cake. It includes instructional leadership and the development of learning opportunities for kids and teachers. It includes change management, moving an organization from where it is to where it needs to be. It includes outreach with various publics and communities that maintain support for the school - the school board, the parent community, others in the community who are resources to the work of the school It's important to understand those things, both to be able to expect and support them, and to also provide good feedback and evaluation.
How are executive heads changing school leadership?
LH: What advice would you give teachers to become part of the process of making their schools better places? LDH: Obviously everyone works in their own vineyard, in their own classroom. Beyond that, it's important for teachers to learn from the beginning of their careers - and throughout their careers - how to be good collaborators and community members, how to reach out to others both to offer to share ideas and thoughts, and to ask and learn from others , how to propose ways that collaboration may be able to take root, to sometimes reach out to the principal and say, "Can I help with this?
Is there a way that I can facilitate some of this work getting done or enable you to be able to facilitate it? And in fact, sometimes school leaders are alone and isolated and may not even realize that they can get help from the faculty to move an agenda forward. LDH: Absolutely. There actually is a lot to learn about how to be a good collaborator, how to manage differences of opinion, how to talk to each other in ways that will be productive and then get to a place where the conversations can be better and richer.
In our efforts to develop the profession, we have to make sure that kind of learning is available to everyone. LH: Let's talk about some of the features that distinguish high-performing schools from low-performing schools. LDH: One of the features that we've talked about is lots of collaboration around good practice.
That's built on a strong foundation of trust. Some really important research [has] looked at the relational elements of effective schools. It's not just focusing on data about the test scores and so on. It's also building trust between and among the professionals, seeing teachers as respected professionals, that is, people not to be mandated to or barked at but as colleagues who have expertise to be orchestrated and shared - and as professionals who want to continue to grow.
Finding ways for the perspectives of teachers and other members of the school community to be shared - as a basis for problem solving, as a basis for school improvement planning - is really important.
In highly successful environments, efforts have been made to make it possible for teachers to be successful. That means making sure that they have the instructional resources they need - textbooks and other tools of learning computers, good curriculum. For example, we know that when a teacher can either loop with the same students or stay in the same or similar grade level for a period of time, they become more skilled than if you say, "Oh, this year you're teaching kindergarten and next year you're going to teach fifth grade, and then I'm going to put you in the fourth and then maybe the seventh.
We know that from research. Respecting the opportunities for teachers to be efficacious in their teaching by giving them the opportunities, the tools and the relationship time with students to be able to be successful [is very important]. That sometimes means reorganizing the school organization so that it supports the work in a more productive way. Looking back over 23 years as a high school English teacher in Florida, she remembers him as particularly demoralizing.
Students told me the first time they ever saw him was when he handed them their diplomas at graduation. The turnover rate for teachers was very high. Luckily for Bonti, this principal was not the only one she has encountered over the years.
Indeed, other school principals - the kinds who instinctively champion instruction over paperwork - have been a source of inspiration for her. She has felt their efforts directly as a teacher, first in Pasco County, Fla. And she has felt their work indirectly through a recent assignment that has sent her into about half the schools in Hillborough County, which, with almost , students, ranks among the country's 10 largest districts.