It’s titled “7 Steps To Effective Feedback,” and while you might think it’s a quick list of tips, it’s really an in-depth plan for instructional leadership and supporting staff growth, based on Dr. Leibowitz’ extensive reading, professional development, and experience as a principal.
Principals, at least as I was trained years ago, have been viewed primarily as evaluators, giving “expert” advice and assessment, rather than sharing nonjudgmental observations with teachers for the purpose of professional learning and growth.
Despite the inherent challenges, I have come to recognize that giving feedback effectively to teachers can be among the most significant contributions a principal can make to improving the quality of learning in our schools.
I have been following Larry Ferlazzo on Google+ and his blog Websites of the Day for a couple of months now, and aside from major outlets like the NY Times, there is no better source for education news and links. Larry also posts interesting articles that don’t necessarily fit within the category of education news, which I always find to be great reading.
I’m not sure how Larry manages to maintain such an active online presence, write books, and teach full-time, but I’ll be paying close attention, hoping to learn a few things from this great educator and author.
Last week, I announced on Twitter that I would be starting a new website at PrincipalCenter.com (you can sign up now to get on the invite list). Here’s the scoop.
What is PrincipalCenter.com?
I’m launching The Principal Center to meet a pressing need in our profession: The need to share and refine effective professional practice with colleagues. When I was a classroom teacher, I had the privilege of collaborating regularly with teammates to share ideas, figure out what works, and refine our practice. As school leaders, we often work alone, and have too few opportunities to learn with and from one another. As much as I value working with other administrators in my district, we can’t afford to spend even more time away from our schools. Online collaboration and professional learning could be a game-changer.
Twitter and blogs are great, but don’t allow for in-depth sharing of material and discussions that need to be a bit more private. The Principal Center will be limited to verified school leaders, and won’t show up on any search engines. It’s our place, to share and grow our professional practice.
But what will this look like? It seems to me that much of our work is done in writing, whether it’s in newsletters, teacher evaluations, recommendation letters, or emails. I’m a fairly good writer and a fast typist, but I still spend an enormous amount of time crafting just the right phrase or sentence to convey the meaning I intend. This is delicate and important work, and when we get crunched for time, it’s hard to be as careful or as thoughtful as we’d like.
I realized a few years back that I received the same kinds of emails over and over again, and often my responses would be similar. I started saving these outgoing messages and re-using them (with tweaks and customization for each new situation, of course), and I found that three things happened:
1. I saved time
2. My communication improved each time I re-used and tweaked a message
3. No one complained – in fact, people thanked me for my thoroughness, promptness, and politeness.
All of this confirmed to me that originality is not a virtue in education. If you’ve figured out the best way to do something (teach the alphabet, recruit volunteers, excite kids about science, keep the lunchroom calm, etc.), I should be doing what you’re doing instead of striving first and foremost for originality. There’s no reason to find my own way to do it if your way is better. There’s no reason I should start from scratch on my parent newsletters next year if I will need to say a lot of the same things I said last year.
Therefore, I’m convinced that what we need is a hub for professional practice. Call it a library, a social network, a repository, or whatever you like. PrincipalCenter.com will be the place to get ideas and wording for the work you do every day, and to share your best with the profession.
It’s Not About Research or Data. It’s About Practice.
The Principal Center is all about sharing and refining best practices, but it’s not a research clearinghouse. As one of just a handful of people in the nation who are simultaneously public school principals and PhD candidates, I know just how far removed from practice education research can be. Research is expensive, takes a long time, and often focuses on answering questions that aren’t very interesting or helpful for practice.
But we don’t need research to improve our collective practice. Why? Because in many cases, we can tell right away when something works. We don’t need published studies to evaluate the myriad things we do each day to lead our schools; we just need to reflect, share, and refine. And we need to do this faster than ever.
Shortening the Learning Cycle
As my friend Steve Peha explains in his article on “Agile Schools”, we need to shorten the iterative cycles from which we learn what works and what doesn’t. I believe that by sharing professional practice, we can shorten this cycle from a year (our natural school year cycle) to just a few days. If you just did something great in your school, I can do it in my school (with refinements), and someone else can launch the 3rd generation a few days later. This is orders of magnitude faster than the typical way we learn and improve as school leaders.
At one level, The Principal Center can serve as a source for newsletter articles, email templates, and any other kind of writing you need to do quickly and carefully. But at another level, it can catalyze a continuous cycle of refinement in our work.
In order for this to work, participants will need to do a few things:
Contribute their best material for professional practice – newsletter articles, project plans, ideas, refinements to other people’s ideas, etc.
Pay a small fee to maintain, curate, and grow the platform. If this kind of thing could be done for free in our spare time, someone would have done it already. I am planning to charge $10/month to help cover the cost of hosting the network and verifying that all members are actual school leaders. This will also allow me to devote proportionately more time to the network as it grows.
Having said that, I know all school leaders are very busy, and may not have time to regularly contribute material. If you want to use the resources at The Principal Center and not contribute, that’s fine – that’s what you’re paying for. Or perhaps you can make time to send in a few things when school isn’t in session, and just be a user of the resources the rest of the time.
How to Join
The Principal Center will launch in a few phases, starting with the Private Beta. We will accept a small number of applicants into TPC’s Private Beta, which will allow us to start building out our library of content and work out the various kinks that will doubtless emerge. By being part of TPC from day 1, you will play an essential role in making TPC a success, and will have access to special benefits.
Private Beta Terms & Conditions:
You agree to contribute at least one thing – and hopefully much more – to the collection of resources
You agree to encourage other principals to sign up for paid memberships, to help TPC launch sustainably
You agree to provide feedback to help us improve TPC
In exchange for your support, you will receive a free lifetime membership – you’ll never have to pay any monthly fees
Right now, several dozen people have signed up, and I will be sorting the list by the number of referrals (@JustinTarte and @PrincipalJ are at the top of the list – thank you for sharing!) when I send out invitations to the beta. Make sure you use your unique referral code (shown when you sign up at PrincipalCenter.com) so you get credit for your referrals.
If you’re not part of the private beta, that’s OK – I will announce additional phases of the launch here at eduleadership.org (sign up for email updates if you haven’t already), and you will still be able to get free months of membership by referring other people. The value of the network grows as more people join and add to the resources for professional practice.
When you’re trying to get a group of busy people together, it’s often very complicated to determine the best day and time for the meeting. If you’ve ever endured an 18-message email chain among a dozen people just to set one meeting, you know what I mean.
I just finished using Doodle for the first time to schedule a group meeting, and it turned out to be a great solution. Doodle is a freemium, ad-supported service that lets you poll meeting participants about potential dates and times, then allows you to select the date that works for the most (or most essential) people.
The On Performance blog will feature longer-form essays, analysis, and commentary on teacher and principal evaluation, merit pay, school improvement, and so forth. This blog, eduleadership.org, will continue to feature articles and tools on productivity and performance for principals.
Last Thursday, a dozen major urban superintendents signed their names to a manifesto published in the Washington Post entitled “How to Fix Our Schools.”
Like many other educators, I was both surprised and incensed by the editorial. Here’s my response, which is currently featured on the front page of EdWeek.org:
Seattle Principal Justin Baeder wonders why Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and other high-profile school leaders plugged charter schools and cyber learning in a Washington Post op/ed rather than boldly committing to their own ambitious agendas. Read More…
Schools are provided with principals with six-figure price tags on the basis of the logic that schools need instructional leaders in order to have a positive impact on student achievement. Indeed, virtually every discussion of the role of the principal in recent decades has centered around instructional leadership.
What’s surprising, though, is how frequently these discussions have failed to address practice, and to relate the day-to-day actions of school leaders – how they do their work, and what work they choose to do – to student achievement.
Aside from a compelling vignette about how a principal used the SIS app to identify an injured student, the article doesn’t offer much insight about how the devices are changing the work of principals, but with 35 district-issued iPhones, I’d expect to see administrators taking advantage of this new technology in a variety of ways.
I can’t access student information from my iPhone (which I pay for myself), but I do find it tremendously useful with apps like OmniFocus, Evernote, and of course, the built-in email app.
Evernote is probably the most uniquely useful iPhone app, since it can save an almost infinite amount of information (such as passwords, lists, rosters, PDFs) that I consequently don’t have to keep on scraps of paper or go back to the office to look up. For example, our online testing passwords are only a few taps away (yet secured behind my own password), so I didn’t have to leave the computer lab to look for them when we started testing last week.
How do you use your iPhone, Android, or Blackberry in your role as a school leader?