This internship in education administration provided me with a number of takeaways that will benefit me throughout my career. I learned how to create a safe, collegial environment for change in teacher practice. My strategies enabled a full court press on the issues facing the math department, and strengthened the will of the team to get the job done by insisting each member believes it is important to "Do your job!" My experience plowed through a maelstrom of perceptions -- some pre-conceived and some formed during the internship experience. I am confident I will be a better education administrator for having spent this time at Dunn Middle School.
Teachers face many challenges in classrooms today; one of the most difficult of these challenges is the ensuring that teachers engage in activities that serve as a foundation for continuous improvement. Staff development programs and services are integral to educational systems today, and they serve to support engaged teachers in their quest to become the best teachers they can possibly be -- every day, for every student. However, many teachers find it difficult to stay on top of the crest of new practice demands and an increasingly diverse student body. It is common knowledge that many teachers feel that the wave has crashed over them, and they are underwater, struggling to hold on to their professional careers -- and their enthusiasm for teaching. In the sections that follow, I relate what I observed with respect to this substantive challenge. I also discuss my role in addressing this issue in the school, and how I dealt with the personal biases that I brought into my internship.
I have read the seminal literature on change of practice, and I embrace the changes taking place in curriculum and instruction that are designed to increase academic achievement across the board. Initiatives like the Common Core State Standards have kept academic achievement, teacher and principal quality top of mind in the education ecosystem. The paths to effective teaching are many, but our nation has largely committed to this avenue for improving student and educator performance. During my internship, I witnessed educators charging into this challenge with enthusiasm and determination. I also witnessed educators who were resisting change -- it seemed -- to the best of their ability. The personal and professional reasons behind this resistance are of concern only as much as they can be rapidly ameliorated. This may sound harsh, but my professional conviction is that we, as educators, have no business wasting students' time. Students in our classrooms and schools must have access to excellent teachers every day that they are in school. To provide less to students in our trust is unconscionable.
Although I had certainly thought of these issues prior to my internship, I had no idea that the challenge would be so integral to my internship efforts. It was fortunate that I was able to engage in activities as an intern that could act as scaffolding to my desire to improve the instruction and learning in Dunn Middle School: 1) Bridging the gap between the school's vision, its culture, and its practice; 2) Presenting explicit information to faculty to help with the development, communication, and implementation of classroom motivation and management plans as a means to increasing opportunities for students to learn and teachers to teach; and, 3) Modeling implementation of the new Accelerated Math program, while serving as a resource for the technological advancements that are geared toward the accelerated math program. By taking these three tacks to improved academic performance of the students at Dunn, I was able to utilize three important channels for learning: Tell, Model, Act.
Armed with research that clearly outlines what teachers and principals can do to improve student learning, I was able to be a practice guide to educators who were eager to make changes that would benefit students. My strongest desire was to reignite educators' passion for teaching that most likely caused them to choose the profession, regardless of whether they entered teaching only a few years ago, or quite a long time ago. I believe that professionals who are passionate about their work will find ways to work around obstacles -- and will be able to sustain their focus on service over the long haul. Looking back, it seems that I may have let my own excitement about the field of education color my perceptions about what other educators were experiencing and feeling. The reality is that even the most passionate teacher or principal can get burned out if they don't receive a level of support that is equivalent to the demands of the profession. Moreover, I had a great deal of time to think about how people perceive support -- about how one person's support is another person's intrusion, about how accepting support can feel like admitting that one is no longer holding up their end of the bargain. The inherent tension in this situation is easy to see: while I felt empathy toward teachers who were facing tough challenges, I felt duty-bound to press them for every higher levels of performance. I have to admit that I felt a bit outraged when teachers deliberately stonewalled the best of my efforts to "help" them. When I wasn't aghast at the overt sabotage some teachers practiced, I was profoundly discouraged by the situation and wondered how change was ever enacted in institutions.
One thing that did help with my outlook was to turn my attention to the department-wide organization effort and assist with curriculum and instruction. A focus of this effort was lesson development, an area in which I excel and over which I become quite animated. I was charged with gathering resources to present information to the staff in preparation for changes that would be implemented. I was able to make structural and organizational changes according to the Students Learning Objectives. Using the model curriculum, staff discovered that planning for Unit 2 was much easier and more expedient. Overall, as we implemented these changes, we found that we were collaborating much more, that our planning time was being maximized, and that teams were meeting their deadlines across the board. The school climate leader had an excellent, upbeat attitude (befitting anyone working on improving organizational climate, I suppose). I suspected that this individual was by nature an optimist, but regardless, the school climate leader put strategies in play that were a little bit coaching and a little bit evangelist. So there was this powerful mix of unflagging encouragement, and reminders about taking the high road, that surrounded the leader like a cloak. I was never sure what was real and what was "show," but the combination worked. And in the end, that is what counts. In our moments away from the crowd, the school climate leader would make comments that hinted at a sophisticated philosophy about the political nature of educational institutions. I came to see that the tactics employed to address school climate were very much like the tactics employed to get votes -- the platforms were different, but the objectives were the same. Getting people to come around to your way of thinking is easiest when they understand exactly what the personal gain will be for them. So we make promises -- to the teachers, to the students, to the parents -- not unlike the campaign promises politicians make, and that we as a society seem so eager to believe.
I relied on my "philosophy of basketball" (Do your job!) to build an esprit de corps about the school's need for improvement, out commitment to students and to each other, and to establish a focus on teaming as the way forward. There was considerable concordance between my "Do your job!" philosophy and the three pillars of our school: Respect,…