Hoosiers and School Leadership

This morning I attended the annual thank you breakfast at Woodlands Church. They are a partner with Howe School, providing volunteers, school supplies and various resources to help our students learn.

While enjoying refreshments and chatting in their very nice community center, the pastor asked if I would say a few words about our partnership during service. Even though this is my fourth year in administration, I still get a pit in my stomach when talking in front of others, especially those I have not met. What do I say? What was the history of this partnership before I came along?

By luck (or divine intervention), I found an old coaching newsletter in a binder of school materials I was to give to a staff member that morning. I saved this newsletter (Basketball Sense, May 2001) from my basketball coaching days because of the excellent article on the cover, “The Coaching Philosophy of Norman Dale”. In it, high school basketball coach Larry Lindsey analyzes the coaching and program-building philosophy of Coach Dale, played by Gene Hackman, in the classic sports movie Hoosiers. Full disclosure: This movie is one of my favorites – I have owned it on VHS, DVD and now digitally.

Perfect! I evoked my inner Hackman and read some of Coach Dale’s quotes to the congregation (below, in italics), organized by Mr. Lindsay under different categories of program-building (bold). It was a nice way to connect the importance of being a team and the school’s partnership with the church. After the event, I also reflected on how these quotes relate to my position as a school leader. My reflections come after the quotes.

Practices

Let’s be clear about what we are after here.

– Do we have a mission focused on student learning and success? How are we communicating this within the school walls and beyond on a regular basis?

Support your players with the public

I would hope you support us for who we are, not for who we are not.

– Is the community supporting our efforts and focusing on what’s going well as well as what needs to be worked on?
– Is this support coming from our elected officials as well as from our parents and local organizations?

These six individuals made a choice…to represent you, this high school. That kind of commitment and effort deserves and demands your respect. This is your team.

– Are the teachers, staff, students and families in my school feeling respected? If not, what I am doing to advocate for this respect, maybe even demanding it?

How to build your team

Five players on the floor function as a single unit. No one person is more important than another.

– Am I expecting everyone to take on their fair share of the work load, including students, families and me?

Challenge your team

Remember what we worked on in practice. I want to see it on the court.

– Is what we are learning as a staff translating into improved student learning? How do we know?

Dealing with your team in a big game

Remember what got you here. Focus on the fundamentals. Don’t focus on winning and losing. Put your effort and concentration into playing to your potential.

– Is our professional development addressing best practices, rather than fluff, or outcomes only? Are we delivering our instruction with fidelity?
– Are the activities we are asking students to do standards-based, relevant and engaging?
– Are the students meeting their own expectations as well as ours? How do we celebrate our successes and not just test scores?

I agree with the author of this article that the process that occurred in Hoosiers typifies what a team or partnership should look like, to strive to better our abilities in order to achieve a goal.

Getting Started with Student-Centered Coaching

Diane Sweeney (@SweeneyDiane), author of Student-Centered Coaching, is working with reading staff and administrators in my district on how to coach teachers to improve instructional practices. It is not that anyone is necessarily deficient in an area; my understanding is this process is a different way to improve our own practices. Although we were asked to take things slow because we had only been trained for one day, we decided to try an activity out.

First, she recommends that whenever you work with staff members with the purpose of improving instruction, you look at current practices. The grade level that the reading staff and I regularly collaborate with had previously constructed a nice rubric to assess their students’ writing. We took that rubric and cross checked it with the Common Core State Standards to see if they aligned. They did! It was a good way to start the discussion, to show everyone that their current practices are effective. Between this meeting and the next, teachers are expected to take this rubric and pre-assess each student in a common genre of writing. In February, the classroom teachers will bring back these writing samples to prompt discussion about current reality with their students’ writing skills.

Next, we brought up the idea from our coaching training of breaking down a writing standard into bite-sized tasks. For example, within the narrative standard students are expected to have a beginning, use details when describing a scene, and close out the story. These tasks or skills are should be put into kid language and listed on a checklist. Teachers can then teach each skill through the use of mentor texts, shared writing and writer’s workshop. Using the checklist of tasks/skills, teachers can note whenever a student has shown proficiency in a skill area during writing conferences. Once the teacher feels her class is ready based on the formative assessments noted in her checklist, she can give the post-assessment for the same genre of writing. They would use the same rubric to assess their students’ writing and compare the pre and post assessments to check for growth.

After today’s initial collaboration with staff, I realized this coaching process is going to take some time. As I headed back to my office, I thought about how we would break down the narrative standard and who would be involved. By luck, my ESL teacher stopped in at the same time and volunteered to start this process with help from a classroom teacher. Later on, one of my Reading Recovery teachers emailed me, requesting to work on another genre of writing and develop a skills checklist. These actions tell me that our first experience in student-centered coaching was a good one.

Just looking at the list of standards for 1st grade in writing is daunting. I can see why Diane cautioned us to to take things slowly and focus on one thing at a time. Speaking with staff, their first impressions were generally positive with regard to this method of collaborating with colleagues to talk about students and instruction. I am looking forward to seeing how our next gatherings will go, especially after working with Diane again. Even more, it is exciting to know where our students are heading because now we have an end in mind. Seeing learning made evident is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

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