Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Courageous Leadership

"Courageous Leadership" was the theme to this year's School Administrators of Iowa (SAI) conference held August 3 & 4. The thoughts swirling in my head on the ride home Thursday had me scrap two days of writing about teaching digital natives how to navigate their own continent. It is clear the theme, also echoed at the Iowa Education Summit just over a week ago, is exactly the call to arms EVERY administrator and educator in this state needs to heed.

Dr. Jason Glass, the Director of the Iowa Department of Education (IDE), stated two things we all could agree on - We could do a better job of educating our students; and we wanted to have the best possible educational system (one that ranks ahead of other states and countries). His third point of agreement was we needed to develop better assessments to measure our educational success. Talk about courageous leadership especially saying that after Governor Terry Branstad had just referenced low-order tests that countries in the world have been out performing us on over the past years.

We have to take the lead in agreeing on Dr. Glass's first two points and formulating everything we do RIGHT NOW with them in mind. Then we address the third as we have to find, work, scratch, claw, beg, borrow and steal (well, maybe not steal) the resources, time and energy to develop those assessments. Assessments that don't exist, nor are being developed. We have to act now, and not send trainers to be trained, forming committees or visiting schools. We need to make "Type II" errors that could result it a messy result, but one that is made due to action, not inaction.

September the IDE will be releasing a list of priorities that will most certainly push districts to lead courageously in finding ways to accomplish these priorities. It will take both working with the IDE and constructively questioning ourselves and not become defensive, only seeing the hot-button broad categorizations (like 'merit pay') and comprehend exactly what is being asked of us. Dr. Glass admitted the the IDE has been an impediment to real change and has been working to get out of school's way, constructive self-reflection.

We will also have to push back where push back is due. My courageous act will be stop short of cooperating if funding trends continue the way they have the last few years. Don't give me an example of a state that is doing things a particular way (Massachusetts) and not address the issue that their funding level per student is significantly higher than Iowa's.

As Dr. Douglas Reeves pointed out, we (public education) are a revenue source for the State of Iowa, not an expenditure. Every student we graduate adds revenue to the state and those who drop out cost 2.1 billion for EACH class (per year). Thankfully CAM High School rarely has a drop out, but we can work harder to prepare our students for the high paying job demand that exists in our state, and not lower expectations. It takes courageous leadership from the parents and faculty to set high expectations and then work hard to help students achieve and meet those expectations.

Changing how we teach in the classroom, and utilizing the technology to bring higher order activities in an engaging format, is the direction any instructional initiative needs to be moving towards. The Iowa Core five characteristics of effective instruction should be a springboard for all schools should use to measure their classroom practices. They WILL be a primary discussion point this year at CAM High School, and not just one of those things that will go away as soon as "Implementation" of the core moves forward.

Matt Carver, the SAI Legal Analyst put the call out to all administrators to keep their legislators informed about the programs that are vital to schools. Recent cuts to the Area Education Agencies (AEA) and the administrator mentor program illustrate how the desire to trim budgets often cut vital programs that are just a few drops in the bucket in state spending. For the second straight year millions cut from AEAs mean their services, that are very vital to all schools to meet state mandates, are reduced and students are the ones that suffer. Mentoring is a universally agreed best practice model to improving administrative effectiveness (something the Governor said is a must that we have better Principals in schools), yet it's funding was cut and sent like trimmings to the state house scrap floor. Oh, and it's still a mandate that we take the time to participate in the program AND we will continue it as we know it's value. It's time as courageous leaders to stand up and to counter the venomous and ill-informed political viewpoints held by to many of our elected officials.

We need to stand up and fight for students by championing innovation, higher order instructional practices, fair and meaningful assessments, and most importantly each other. If we do that, then we will see achievement levels rise, and not because of any piece of legislative action or political rhetoric.

It will happen through the courageous leadership of our educators.

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