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Book:  Collaborative Leadership

Author:  Peter DeWitt

Purchase:  Print | eBook | Audiobook

Citation:  Clear, J. (2018). Atomic habits : tiny changes, remarkable results : an easy & proven way to build good habits & break bad ones. London: Random House Business Books.

Three Big Takeaways:
  1. Many political leaders are dedicated to improving outcomes for students. But they struggle to have discussions about the variability at the classroom level and instead focus on policies that have shown to have little effect on improving student learning - such as more money, different forms of schooling, setting standards, more assessments, etc. Rather, we need to be more concerned about "within school variability," which means we should be more concerned about the variability between teachers within a school than the variability between schools. If we want to truly improve student learning, it is vital that we look at the effect of within-school variability on learning. The variability between schools is 36 percent, while the variability within schools is 64 percent. (pg. 30)

  2. A common criticism of leaders is that they do not have "experience" in a certain grade level or content area. According to Hattie, teacher-subject knowledge has an effect size of .09, which is well under the hinge point of .40. This does not mean that subject-matter is not important. It means that just because teachers have subject-matter knowledge, it doesn't mean they can get it across to all students. Leaders are often in the position where they have to observe subjects that they may not have taught. Hattie's research shows that leaders can still offer important insight into student engagement and find resources that will help the teacher improve. (pg. 76)

  3. How can leaders develop a relationship with students, teachers, and staff when we spend 95% of our time sequestered in an office? How can principals be instructional leaders when they rarely see instruction, or assistant principals become instructional leaders when they are not encouraged to immerse themselves into the learning process? Most school districts spend approximately 85% of their entire budget on human resources. It is astonishing that more emphasis is not placed on developing the human capital of a district's largest investment. (pg. 90)


Other Key Ideas:

Collaborative leaders believe in a high level of transparency and honesty and have a high level of performance because stakeholders feel as though they have a voice in the process. Collaborative leaders use social media as one way to communicate with parents, and they utilize technology in ways that will maximize impact. (pg. 5)

Classroom visits, which are some of the best actionable steps we can take, help motivate teachers and principals to work together because the result is a clearer understanding of the classroom climate, teacher instructional practices, and student learning needs. (pg. 19)

A collaborative leader has to model the type of ongoing learning they wish to see in staff. Therefore, leaders need to provide staff with quality research that will inspire action at the same time it proves impact. "Without data you're just another person with an opinion." We also need to seek out research that will motivate us to question our own long-held beliefs. Questioning beliefs is key to improving our impact. Students deserve the best teachers and leaders; therefore, we always need to be focused on improving how we teach and how we lead. (pg. 26)

We should make sure teachers are happy in order to make sure that our students are happy. Happy students, who focus on learning, go home and tell parents about their school day in a positive way, and this makes less of an issue for school board members, who end up feeling happy to be on the school board. (pg. 52)

What can leaders do to encourage voice from those teachers who want to offer it? Leaders can do surveys to ascertain how teachers feel about the school climate, and then they can articulate the results at a faculty meeting, where they can also come up with an action plan. Not every problem that comes up on a survey can be solved but it would go a long way to at least address the results and discuss them, as well as try to change at least one issue based on those results. (pg. 56)

As leaders, we have to make sure that our school climate encourages teachers to not simply follow rules but to take risks by implementing new strategies that might increase the assessment capability of all students. A climate open to risk-taking means that leaders should make it clear that teachers have the freedom to try new strategies without having to worry that everything they do in the classroom will go into their evaluation. Teachers need room to fail as well as to succeed; otherwise, they will not take these necessary risks. The added benefit of this supportive climate is that teachers may be more likely to encourage students to take healthy academic risks. (pg. 68)

Beware of collecting survey data from students without being explicit about sharing the results with them; it has been found that students become frustrated when they do not see any changes after they provide survey input. Students aren't ignorant to the fact that leaders and teachers poll them for their opinions and then often don't change anything about the school environment. They know when they're being ignored. Collaborative leadership is about making sure your stakeholders know that they have a voice, that they are being heard, and that their voice can have an impact on how the school is run. (pg. 86)

Professional development training that separate leaders from other staff doesn't allow for the necessary deep conversations to take place. It is difficult, if not impossible, to plan action steps to move forward because the teachers being trained separately begin thinking about how they have to ask the leader (who isn't present) for permission to move forward; this results in a lack of movement and inefficient back-and-forth dialogue that can prove fruitless. Separating leaders and staff during training contributes to the dysfunctional relationship between these two groups. It reinforces a culture of hierarchy and mistrust which is toxic to a culture of collaboration. We have to create training where leaders and teachers can work in partnership with one another. (pg. 101)

Sending teachers out for one-day, off-site professional development isn't usually effective. Research shows that close to 90 percent of what is learned at traditional professional development like outside conferences does not work in the long run. (pg. 103)

Accepting, and really hearing the feedback given by a teacher, parent, or student is one way that leaders can ensure a more positive school climate. If teachers, parents, and students feel heard, they will be more likely to engage. Stakeholders at your school should see you as someone they can approach. Otherwise, they may air their complaints on social media where it can be shared and spread very quickly. However, being open to feedback does not mean accepting abuse. If someone comes in yelling negative feedback, the leader needs to deescalate the situation immediately. Accepting feedback isn't easy. Leaders have to commit to really listening rather than thinking of something to say in defense. Accepting negative feedback also means not taking it personally. It is not that we can't defend ourselves when feedback is harsh, but our first priority should be to try to figure out why the other person feels the way they do. It's easy to accept positive feedback, but it's a whole lot hard to listen to the negative kind. All in all, the best thing to do when encountering negative feedback is to learn something from it and then dust yourself off knowing that a brighter day lies ahead. (pg. 130)

If you are a part of an administrative team in your school, set aside some time to meet with the administrative team and discuss the observations that were completed. Discuss what each administrator saw in the lesson, what kind of learning took place, who has strengths that need to be shared among staff, and who needs some special coaching in order to improve. (pg. 144)

When schools, families, and community groups work together to support learning, children tend to do better in school, stay in school longer, and like school more. When schools engage families in ways that are linked to improving learning, students make greater gains. When schools build partnership with families that respond to their concerns and honor their contributions, they are successful in sustaining connections that are aimed at improving student achievement. (pg. 151)

With smartphones, we have more and more ways to communicate with parents, and they with us. Whether it's face-to-face conversations, email, or newsletters, every communication we have with families is important because we represent our school and district through our actions and words. Families deserve to see the tools and resources that we use with their children. Working those tools into our communication with parents and guardians is the best way to do that. (pg. 160)

In social media, leaders and teachers represent the schools they serve. You don't leave work behind when you log in to Facebook. Social media has changed the way we communicate. On Twitter or Facebook, people know where you work. Others can capture screenshots of things you may say and post it for the world to see, outside of your small circle of friends. Our words now spread faster than ever. And bad news travels even faster. Even if you are just posting about your personal life, if you do or say something disreputable on social media, it can reflect negatively on your school. No matter who you are speaking with or what you are talking about, try to always act as a responsible partner doing and saying things that will make your coworkers, students, and school community proud. (pg. 164)

There are three key reasons why school leaders should use social media. Those reasons are communication, public relations, and branding. Communication refers to the typical communication that schools do through the use of newsletters and websites. Public relations refers to the idea that schools need to direct parents and community members to positive things happening in education because there has been a great deal of negative press around public education. The last reason, branding, means that schools work explicitly to have the public associate certain positive characteristics and attributes to their products. (pg. 164)

If principals truly want to be collaborative leaders, they need to find innovative ways to engage the school community. Too often, engagement used to be one sided. Collaborative leaders need to move toward fostering authentic dialogue between all stakeholders in the school community, including the use of social media. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand and ignore social media or the power of it. Frankly, so many school leaders are on social media that if you are not on social media people will notice your absence. People see the kind of authentic communication that takes place at one school and notice its absence at another. (pg 166)

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