As we begin the 2022-2023 school year, there are countless opportunities to witness school improvement practices in action! Seeing brand new teachers shine with the enthusiasm for learning and being with administrators who are working tirelessly to ensure everything is ready for the opening days of school have been my experiences over the past several weeks. “On the Road Again” and feeling so inspired…
A focus for my work is always to bring intentional practices to the right work in schools. This includes helping school administrators understand their priorities and most importantly, using their time to focus on the important work of improving their school. Building common understanding of the need to lead a collaborative school focused on results and learning is job one for school administrators. This work cannot be done in isolation so principals are encouraged to build their bench; sharing leadership with others and building capacity within the staff.
This week, I had the amazing opportunity to work with teacher leaders (and an amazing principal) at Our Lady of Grace Catholic School (San Diego Catholic Diocese). Principal Erin Mares has been busy creating a shared leadership structure so that she can deeply implement the PLC process. The teacher leaders have been given great opportunities to study, learn and discuss effective practices that will improve learning in their school. As I met with them, it was obvious that they were not letting obstacles impede the work at hand. Being a small school, they had to be creative about how they could collaborate and share ownership of students and they are planning around common issues and themes to ensure that they continue to develop a strong, faith-based culture that meets the needs of ALL students. This is their goal. Erin understands that she cannot lead this work herself and has intentionally built her bench to support instructional leadership.
I loved being in her school and hearing her excitement for the structures and processes that she has put in to place. Through reflection, study and intentional conversations, Erin is setting her teachers (and students) up for success; she knows that in order to meet the needs of each student, the teachers need an “all hands-on-deck” attitude around shared ownership. Moving a culture in a school from “my students” to “our students” is a significant shift that is a focus of authentic professional learning community practice and an important mindset shift when we improve schools. And, as one team of three teachers told me at Erin’s school, they want to think of their shared ownership of students as “one classroom with three doors.”
Just imagine the opportunity for student success when three teachers are working collaboratively to determine next steps for an individual student’s learning. It isn’t “my responsibility” as a new teacher to have all the answers but three of us will put our expertise together and determine next steps and instructional strategies that will be more helpful to a student. Imagine the school when this shared ownership is created throughout the school; all teachers feel a sense of ownership with all students. What amazing learning can be accomplished when this is our culture! Fortunately, when administrators and teachers give themselves the gift of professional learning community practices, it is possible to dream this school.
At American Canyon High School in Napa Valley, teachers have also accepted the challenge to develop collective ownership of their students. The teachers worked together to state their intentions through collective commitments. First and fore most to the teachers is the need to build a healthy school culture that brings back the pride and joy that school can be. Understandably, this has felt a little lost to the teachers during the past couple of disruptive years and I was very appreciative of their desire to intentionally focus on collaborative ownership of all students as their school year begins! I look forward to following their journey and celebrating their successes with them.
It feels like a new year is truly beginning; fresh starts, reflections of all we have done in the past and what we can do to continuously improve. Lifelong learning, self-reflection and taking the time to work on the right work leads to a journey of school improvement. Accept the challenge; enjoy the view and accept the speed bumps along the way as opportunities to slow down, reconsider direction and confidently move forward. Welcome to 2022-2023.