Publication Type: Web Article
Year of Publication: 2005
What issues do highly skilled teachers and teacher coaches face when they are "inserted" into high-need, low-performing schools? Would it be more effective to introduce a team of expert teachers (and perhaps a proven principal)? And if so, how should this happen? Members of the Teacher Leaders Network explored both these questions during recent online conversations. Taken together, their reflections point the way toward the effective use of NBCTs and other accomplished teachers to help improve student achievement in hard-to-staff schools. They also offer a caution. As one experienced school change specialist put it: "If any person or group goes into a low-performing school presenting themselves as the 'silver bullet,' they are condemned to failure right off the bat."
Teacher Leaders Network (2005). What issues do expert teachers and teacher coaches face when they are 'inserted' into high-needs schools? Teacher leaders network conversations. Retrieved from the Teacher Leaders Network 17 Apr 2008. Link: http://www.teacherleaders.org/old_site/Conversations/HTS/inserted_HTS.html
What Issues Do Expert Teachers and Teacher Coaches Face
When They Are "Inserted" into High-Need Schools?
The TLN moderator asked:
If a National Board Certified Teacher or other accomplished teacher is recruited to a high-need school, what faculty issues will they face? How might they most effectively "insert" themselves into the school without creating undue resentment — and without compromising their principles? If a teacher or group of teachers are coming into a low-performing school with a specific assignment to coach, lead professional development and promote positive change, what steps might they take to build trust and develop a collaborative relationship with the existing faculty?
Anne, who specializes in teacher collaboration work, replied:
Faculty members already working in the school may be looking at student and school needs from a perspective that has been shaped over time by the existing culture — usually a culture that expects, excuses, and even accepts low achievement. When a newcomer arrives with a new perspective on the situation (invariably accompanied by new ideas) the prevailing attitudes may range from annoyance to weary sighs. "This too shall pass" probably defines the most prevailing thoughts.
Reluctance and frustration may emerge if the newcomer has ideas that involve new responsibilities for teachers. The faculty most likely perceives themselves as already doing the best they can in a bad situation and doesn't understand how they could possibly work any harder.
If the faculty knows that the newcomer has come there because s/he has been identified as "accomplished," then expect faculty members to be coolly assessing and somewhat distant. Some may feel threatened, but most faculty will probably think along these lines: "If (s)he had been in MY situation (s)he would not have done as well as I am doing." There may even be a subconscious hope that that the newcomer's star won't shine as brightly in order to prove that point.
Expect some outright resentment from some teachers for a number of reasons, including the fact that they might be expected to make changes or to rise to new standards of instruction. In some situations the resentment can turn into sabotage.
On the other hand, expect some faculties to welcome the person and to welcome changes that might pay dividends for their students. All faculties will have at least some members who will embrace new ideas and make newcomers welcome. Rather than feel threatened, they will welcome a fresh perspective and new expertise.
You asked: "How might they most effectively "insert" themselves into the school without creating undue resentment — and without compromising their principles?"
You can't beat a warm smile and a genuine "I'm glad to be with you" attitude for an ice-breaker. A sense of humor is also a wonderful help.
The newcomer can gain respect by asking faculty members' advice on different school issues and honoring their wisdom and knowledge as often as possible.
Being defensive will frost up the atmosphere in a hurry! The newcomer should be as open and transparent as possible with faculty members. They should never apologize or try to hide who they are, where their strengths lie, and what they can do. Instead, focus on bringing out the strengths in the faculty with whom they are working. The more competent the faculty becomes, the less threatened and resentful they will feel.
The newcomer should use every possible occasion to collaborate and involve faculty members in collaborating with each other. Focus on the "we" and not on the "I." Let the faculty know that s/he can't go it alone, and that s/he is depending on them.
An upbeat attitude is difficult to keep if faced with resistance and even outright hostility, but it's possible, and it's the only way to survive. The good news is that it's okay to act upbeat even when not actually feeling upbeat.
Newcomers must have a sense of what they want to accomplish and stay on focus. Stick with it. Don't give up. Persist in the face of apathy and/or adversity. S/he must have a clear vision of where s/he's going and why s/he's going in that direction.
Linda E., another teacher collaboration specialist, wrote:
You asked: "If a National Board Certified Teacher or other accomplished teacher is recruited to a high-need school, what faculty issues will they face?"
They are going to encounter mistrust and cynicism. If they assume good will, then they will assume that many in that school, who've been toiling there with little to show for their efforts, are doing all they know how to do. If they knew better ways to reach their students, most would do it.
And that puts everyone on very thin ice. Because the national norm of teaching for so long has been that teachers are supposed to know how to be all things to all kids. And many of these teachers love the heck out of their students, but the kids still don't achieve. So acknowledging that more knowledge is needed about content and pedagogy is a huge step.
I think adopting a "learning stance" is key. If the new teachers come in to learn about the school, its children, its community, and identify the real issues of learning, then they don't set themselves up as the experts — which is doomed to isolate them and create even more resistance to their input.
Ideally, part of the transition process and reform of the schools is the idea of collaborative inquiry — learning together about issues, about the work that teachers identify that they feel passionate about pursuing. This way, everyone takes a learning stance. Norms are key, so that we learn to treat each other as partners, with everyone having skills, knowledge, and pieces of the whole to offer. As they work together over time, trust will be built through the learning they do together on behalf of their students and their profession.
In terms of coming in as a coach or staff developer, the issues are similar. I'm finding in my school system that people working in high-need, low-performing schools are used to people coming in to "fix" them, or point out what's wrong, and then going away with no impact on the staff or the students.
I've been starting with professional conversations around ideas, using protocols for talking about text. This introduces the idea of a structured, focused way to talk, designed to take the participants somewhere in a finite amount of time. We use an article, a definition of learning communities, the school mission/vision statement and similar textual material. Then we do a success analysis of work that has produced some success in the school. Everyone writes and tells their stories in small groups. Then the small groups tease out the elements/characteristics that led to the success. They chart these, and groups share out. They celebrate that there IS good stuff going on, and we recognize it when we see it!
Once we know these successful elements, we can explicitly include these elements in planning for lessons and units, making the possibility of student success that much more likely. THEN we talk about what gets in the way of implementing this kind of work. If we know the elements that lead to success, what are the barriers that keep us from employing them more often? We've had rich discussions about these barriers, and teachers are amazed when they begin to see the difference between a perceived barrier, and an excuse. Just because something is difficult, doesn't mean it isn't do-able. If we truly hold student success at the heart of our decisions, some perceived barriers seem either silly, or worth challenging. We acknowledge the real challenges — imposed high stakes testing, teacher exhaustion, students who don't believe they can learn, students who are disengaged, parents who are not supportive, and more.
As we begin to become a community of professionals who are the best advocates for each others' success, we can spend our time fighting the real dragons. That's what we study. If we know a, b, and c are good for teachers and students — and we are engaged in research and documentation to support our beliefs — then it's going to be that much harder for others to nay-say us.
As I write this, I'm realizing what others have pointed out about the real, full-ou, work of teachers in true professional learning communities. It is VERY revolutionary. It's counter to the traditional culture. Maybe that's why I am so passionate about this work! Right now we are working with a group of schools to explore action research that teachers can conduct in their own classrooms. It's our belief that this is a natural piece of work within the context of a teacher learning community. It's about pursuing those essential questions and wonderings about teaching and learning in a systemic, strategic way, with the support and feedback of trusted colleagues who are, in turn, engaged in pursuing their own wonderings.
Sheryl described her own entry into a new school where she was expected to bring about change.
When I first arrived at my new elementary school, I knew winning the trust of the faculty would be tough. Not only was I new to the school, district and state, but I was bringing in a new technology program that was being used by the district to push through a state mandate requiring all staff to master and prove mastery of technology proficiency (via a test). And to make it worse — passing the test was tied to staying employed. Every indication pointed toward my program and skills not being accepted. The faculty in my new elementary was a tight knit family with a very demanding student population. They have the highest transient and homeless population in the city.
My new administrator warned me that most of the teachers in the building were reluctant technology users and that my efforts would probably not be well received. The task that lay ahead of me was two- fold: (1) to bring all teachers in the building to a proficient level and understanding of technology use in an effort to improve student achievement; and (2) to develop and implement an integrated technology curriculum that was content driven in an effort to improve student achievement.
I knew the first day would be life or death in their acceptance of what I was trying to accomplish. So I decided to be radical in my approach. I figured "what do I have to lose?" I dressed up like a camp counselor and put together a bunch of objects that could be used for camping and tied them into a metaphoric theme: Traveling the Techno Trail. I made the introduction humorous and had them all laughing as I explained who I was and why I was there. It was risky — but it worked.
Once I figured out who the handful of teachers were that resented me, I was determined to give them special attention. Bottom line: we all wanted what was best for the kids and by tying each effort to a goal for kids even my most reluctant colleagues were willing to accept me and what I brought to the school.
I saw my role as an ambassador of sorts. I planned PR type strategies to gain acceptance and to highlight the success of even my newest users — both teachers and students. I was willing to bleed with them the first year. I knew they were making sacrifices by learning something new, so I made sacrifices by making myself available to them and being willing to work with them in a way that preserved their integrity. I remember one teacher saying to me: "You just keep getting nicer. Most start out nice and then get mean. You keep giving us more." It was a challenging first year. But when the students started succeeding, the teachers became some of the program's biggest advocates.
I think another reason for my success was that I implemented the strategies in phases. We took baby steps the first year. I let them set their professional development goals and choose what and when I would teach them. During Phase I, rather than just drop their students off at the lab, they were required to stay and work on a computer right along with the students. I provided "just in time" training, training during their planning on Friday, an afterschool computer club for teachers (just like we had for the kids), and some train-the-trainer workshops. There were countless times I worked one-on-one with a teacher who was too embarrassed to attend training because s/he felt so inept at technology.
In the end, I won their trust by bleeding with them, teaching to the gap with a planned effort to move them along a developmental continuum and by showing them I was sold on helping kids succeed. I gave the school and the teachers all the credit for our progress. I made sure media covered our success and that any stories picked up by the media featured the students and teachers, not me or my program.
By Year Three I had trained myself out of a job. We were the second school in the district (out of 87) to be deemed 100% technology proficient by the state test. All of our teachers were teaching their own students when they came to the computer lab. I left the school in Year Four for a technology position at central office, but my efforts paid off. Our school is still seen as the model elementary school for technology integration and improved student achievement. They are fully acredited and meet AYP — not a small feat for a school with very high needs.
Pamela, who works in an alternative high school, wrote:
I think the most important thing when entering a high-need school is to find out about the STUDENTS. Who would know this better than the current teachers? Asking existing teachers about the clientele and their approaches to working with these students and teaching them would be one way to get to know the staff, whether coming in as a teacher to teach or leading professional development. You are more likely to be viewed as a fellow professional if the other teachers feel you have a grasp of the working conditions and a respect for what they are already doing.
I've never been in the situation described, but I have been in a building where a newcomer came in (in this case the principal) and began making changes without either getting to know or consulting with the existing faculty. The result was polarizing. Errors were made that directly affected students and learning.
Small things first, like not getting information to the right person in the building, followed by big things like not getting textbooks to kids. Many, many dedicated and competent teachers walked out the door. The effects are still being felt.
I can imagine that any one brought in, no matter how talented, would be completely ineffective if s/he were not able to work with and motivate the staff already in place. Though the National Board Certification process measures effective teaching, I don't think it indicates (and doesn't claim to indicate) that an NBCT has the necessary personality and adult leadership experiences to change the momentum in a school. For an NBCT or any other accomplished teacher to make a difference in a high-need school, they need the right mindset and the right leadership training.
You asked: "If a National Board Certified Teacher or other accomplished teacher is recruited to a high-need school, what faculty issues will they face?"
The attitudes and issues s/he faces are dependent upon a multitude of factors. What is the existing culture of the school? The attitudes of the existing faculty? The attitudes of the incoming teacher/s? Are they inserted as "special" people with "royal" status, or are they simply added to the staff with little fuss or fanfare? Does the highly accomplished teachers consider themselves crusaders ready to ride in and "fix" the school with their great knowledge — or are they coming in looking to build relationships over time and to effect change more naturally?
"How might they most effectively insert themselves into the school without creating undue resentment — and without compromising their principles?"
How do people build trust with difficult colleagues or in difficult situations in or out of the workplace? The general principles are the same. But a few specifics come to mind:
1. Do not assume ANYTHING about ANYTHING or ANYONE. Go in with an open mind, just like you do with a class that has "a reputation." Everyone starts with a clean slate or you are doomed to fail.
2. Do not act all-knowing or as if you are the annointed one(s). If you go in as a learner and listener, you are WAY more likely to build trust and respect.
3. Learn something from everyone. Everyone has strengths, and it is upon those strengths that that you can help build something better.
4. There's a huge debate about this, but I don't think it's wise to pay teachers coming in any differently than those already there. That's a surefire way to drive a wedge between people. What about the existing accomplished teachers who are already working in the school? What about the promising novices who have great potential but are still new and struggling? There has to be a sense of "we're all in this together."
5. Don't assume a highly acomplished teacher in one setting will prove to be highly accomplished in another setting. Kids, cultures, socioeconomic levels, ethnic groups and schools are not interchangeable.
Marsha, who both teaches and coaches in her school system, wrote:
I often work as professional development coach in schools that are among the lowest performing in our district. I also have worked the last couple of years as a part-time teacher in different buildings. So I think I've learned how to walk in and figure out how to be accepted.
My critical ingredient is to listen. Walk humbly because you don't know much. The existing faculty have been living in the situation every day, and until you do that for a bit, you don't have enough context to make much of a contribution.
Listen with an openness to understand — not only for the facts but the dynamics of the culture. You'd better figure out both, because they are both important. Simultaneously you are reading everything you can get your hands on about the kids, their test scores, the practices and procedures of this unique school. I typically walk the halls and read the things teachers staple up on bulletin boards, look at the kinds of professional magazines that are (or aren't) subscribed to in the library, and so forth. Just being a sponge.
Once you are absorbing a lot of information, then you can begin to gently ask some questions to flesh out details. Maybe not about what is going on in that school, but about a generalized topic that would be relevant to it. From here it almost always becomes crystal clear who is defensive and who isn't. As you enter into a one-on-one dialogue, you can see who is frightened of professional conversations and who isn't. You begin to construct a broader picture of the players and how all the roles are played out in this school.
You also can tell where the hot buttons are, not only for individuals but for the whole building. If there's an administrator involved, you can keep your ideas about the school to yourself but still subtly check in with them to see how your ideas compare with theirs. I never want the understandings that I am forming to be unduly shaped by what administrators think — but I do like to know what they think.
At some point, you start to meet with the leaders. That might be the the principal and/or the leadership team. Here's where you begin public conversations guided by your private observations. How do your conclusions match up with their conclusions? It's interesting to keep a mental T-chart of how the two stack up. Usually I run to my car or back to my room to scribble notes down after these meetings because there are usually big discrepancies in buildings that don't really "get" themselves. If that's the case, then the next step would be working with them to help clarify what they know. On the other hand, if they have a pretty good picture of themselves and they just need the tools to improve, then you know you'll be moving in a different direction.
If you do find that your observations and internal data collection don't match up with their perceptions, the next challenge is to figure out how you will go about revealing what you've learned in such a way that they think they figured it out for themselves. You can't just tell them. That would insult them and create a lot of unnecessary resistance. If you're lucky, and the administrator or leadership team is on the same page with you, you'll have allies. Otherwise it's a long road to building a series of conversations that create awareness.
One school where I worked wasn't meeting math standards. The teachers hated the math curriculum and passively refused to teach it. Their scores were lowand getting lower. They ignored the data because they believed that the way THEY were teaching was "better" for kids, despite what the test data said. Their kids came from bad neighborhoods, they were quick to point out, and they couldn't do anything about that. The principal didn't think he could change their minds and had given up.
What do you do when people believe they are on high moral ground and the kids are the problem? These are big obstacles — and not uncommon. First we had to affirm them as teachers and make the point that all teachers need to have continuing conversations about what they're teaching and whether it's effective. Our examination of teaching and learning wasn't a condemnation of them, it was an effort to establish an ongoing professional dialog. It was natural for us to all work together to identify areas where there was a need for the students to improve. That led to conversations about the match or mismatch between what was being taught and what was expected in the district curriculum. We found that there were more areas of agreement than they realized. From there, the discussion moved to what they were teaching vs. what was being assessed on the tests. And then to conversations about whether the problem with test scores might be the way they taught or WHAT they taught. You get the gist. Eventually these 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers decided that they could switch to the now four-year old "new" math curriculum because it really wasn't so bad. They also adopted the new ways of instruction that the curriculum required. Within three years they met the standard of excellence.
This experience of moving faculties from resistance and student blaming to better practices and higher student achievement has repeated itself over and over again in my work. Mostly, it's because I honor them as teaching professionals. Some teachers do choose to transfer out of the school (or retire) because the process makes them uncomfortable. Some continue to resist. But most appreciate the help they receive in igniting a desire to improve their teaching.
The best part is this: When it's time for me to leave, the faculty can continue without me. They are self-sufficient. They have figured out how to identify and address their own needs and improve their own teaching practice. Building this independence is critically important, because there are never enough coaches and outside experts to go around.
Lori, an NBCT in the Miami-Dade County system, moved to a high-need school in midyear, as part of a district effort to increase the level of teaching expertise in a group of targeted schools. She shared her experience so far:
Anne wrote that "I honestly think I could face a challenge like working in a high-needs school with energy and enthusiasm if I were going in as part of a team of teachers who planned and worked together to tackle that challenge." And Bill asked: "Would you follow an outstanding leader to a HTS school?"
I transferred into a low/underperforming school, also designated as a "Zone" school in Miami-Dade County FL, in January 2005. I hesitate to call it a hard-to-staff school any more because, in a few short months, we seem to be not so hard-to-staff anymore.
While I considered many, many factors while deciding whether or not to move, at the top of my list were the two mentioned above. I felt that the presence of like-minded colleagues and a strong instructional leader would have the greatest impact on my ability to be successful in my new endeavor. So, how did I make sure that happened?
I made it clear to both the current and future principals very early on that I was considering the move. I took a half day to visit the school and sit in on classes that had the children that I would be teaching. (FYI, I moved after 18 years working with at-risk high school students into this school where I work with 4th and 5th grade students in a science lab.) I interacted with students and teachers in the school. I also made sure that my interview was the last one of the day so that the principal and I could spend a significant amount of time together. The principal sat with me for nearly three hours as we basically interviewed each other.
The fact that she spent that much time with me certainly told me a lot about how much she valued teachers. We also had a lengthy discussion about what I felt I needed to be successful in terms of resources, time, attitudes and academic freedom. She responded in a way that satisfied my desire to be able to do what I do best — teach children science.
I also wanted to make a move to work with some like-minded colleagues. I was already friends with the one National Board Certified Teacher who was already at the school. And I had been speaking with another for nearly a year about being able to work together in such a school. There was also a third year teacher/friend in a nearby school who was eager to move. After a lot of discussion and struggling with the idea of leaving students mid-year, we decided to go ahead with the move. We felt that the opportunity to move together might not present itself again and that we really wanted to work together. So off to this "Zone" elementary school we went.
Thus far it has worked out really, really well for me. I am absolutely LOVING the younger children, though there were some definite challenges early on. I really felt that my role at this school, initially, needed to be as a teacher. I felt very strongly that there was no way to establish myself as a leader until I was seen as a strong teacher. I was very clear with the principal that I wanted to be introduced as Lori, science teacher...nothing more...nothing less.
It takes time to establish oneself at any school, and I needed to learn from the veterans at this school about the children, their families and the community. But, as time has passed, my road has gotten easier and teachers have begun to come to me and the other new NBCT to talk about PD, lesson ideas, collaborative projects and more.
While it is still too early to tell what the results of all of this will be, it is starting to feel as though the tide is turning. I suppose time will tell. Until then, I just try to learn more each day about how best to work with 4th and 5th graders, and hope that my contributions to the team will help to move this school to the place that it should have been all along.
Would I do it again? In a hearbeat! Would I follow this principal to another school? Absolutely!
Does it make a difference to have like-minded colleagues? All the difference in the world!
Our final contribution comes from a TLN member who joined the faculty of a high-poverty, high-minority, high needs school several years ago. As this member's narrative suggests, building credibility as a teacher leader and change agent in a new school is as much art as science. If you're in a similar situation, you'll find wise counsel here.
These are my personal reflections as an "accomplished teacher" who actually was "recruited" to my current position at a high-need school. I've tried to draw some conclusions/generalizations, although this is certainly not a scholarly effort.
The principal of my school was the AP at my former school. I followed her to my current school one year after she went there. The staff mistrusted her; she tells me that it was three years before she felt like they finally "removed their masks" so she could really know them.
The issue I immediately faced was resentment/fear. The staff assumed there was favoritism in my hiring; mistrusting the principal, they automatically mistrusted me.
I took the job intending to "fly under the radar" for at least the first year, building relationships during that time. I planned to go out of my way to demonstrate that I was a good person, a good teacher, and that the children were my top priority. I thought "showing" would be better than "telling," but "showing" takes a long time. It was an imperfect plan, but it provided a reasonable start.
Luckily, I landed next door to a teacher who has been at the school 20+ years. She had just returned from a one-year sabbatical and was considering leaving teaching forever. She came back to give it just one more year — burned out, but hoping for renewal and thinking that if things were the "same-old" she would do something else. Fortunately for both of us, we immediately "clicked." She was interested in my methods and ideas, and easy to brainstorm with; we still have a 1+1=3 relationship. She had/has a lot of credibility in the school, and ran a lot of interference for me against the undercurrents of the school culture. She also would let me know the "scuttle" so I could counteract it. So, to generalize, teacher leaders benefit from some good luck. How miserable it would have been if I had no ally, especially during those first few months.
So I began "under the radar," avoiding most acts of leadership — definitely not my style, but even in hindsight a wise move. I was working with the principal on the change model she was implementing, but this took place in the background. I served as a sounding board/advisor for her, often via email or in discussions well after school hours. I also was able to guide her in building her own staff relationships; I was a "rat" in that sense, giving her information about how the staff was feeling that she would not otherwise have known. She did the same for me when she could, but she was even more cut off by the staff than I was.
My first flight ignoring the radar was to be peer teacher for the new art teacher hired that year since I was clearly the most qualified to meet that need. I incorporate a lot of art into my class, and was at that time planning a presentation for our state's annual art conference with the art teacher from my old school. It made sense for the new teacher to share that experience, and I had some experience to offer her. None of that mattered to the staff. There were two staff members who were ALWAYS the peer teachers in the past — even though others admitted that the two were not very helpful peers. Feathers were ruffled and many cried "favoritism." So, I would generalize that an ability to fly "under the radar" is helpful; pick the hills you're willing to die on.
One hill I did choose was to refuse to participate in the departmentalized model that fourth grade was then using at that school. The kids were switching classes for reading, writing, and math for three hours each day! I just couldn't see how I could teach and how they could learn given those conditions. I rely on integrated thematic instruction. My next-door-ally was very concerned but open to try something new. Two other team members were horrified with the idea of having to keep all of their kids all day; they felt that getting certain kids out of the room was a necessary break for them. I compromised to keep the peace, and the kids changed classes just one hour per day for reading. My ally tried integrated instruction for the first time. We all survived the change, and kept the change in place. To generalize, it's necessary to forge compromises in order to "keep the peace." Sticking totally to your view of "the way it should be" alienates those you need as allies. On the other hand, caving in on big issues robs you of your soul.
Interestingly, [some aides and teachers] also watched me closely for any sign whatsoever that might indicate I was not "taking care of our babies" — especially the black children known to have had difficulties in other classrooms. Once they decided I did measure up to their standard...those who had only nodded to me in the past were now friendly in the halls. I do think that, had I not "measured up," this underground culture could have made my life quite miserable. I can generalize that a teacher leader thrust into such a setting should realize that MANY are watching for reasons not readily apparent.
Well, toward the end of the first year, the principal called on me to work on data analysis; this was something I had always done in an informal capacity at my old school, and one of the reasons she wanted me on board. The old principal had a terrible way of dealing with test scores. She would put comparisons on overheads, then publicly humiliate teachers by comparing scores from class to class and musing over possible causes. Ouch! The new principal had not approached any teachers about scores the year she came to Ballard, and the staff was relieved. So, when the word got out that I was working with the scores the anxiety returned. The principal and I decided to get the data, but "low-key" it. I met privately with each intermediate teacher without the principal present and did my best to focus the discussions on positives. With some, we were able to discuss how to interpret/analyze the data and how possibly to use it for future planning. Others just weren't ready — out of their comfort zone. To generalize...well, we're back to picking hills to die on; this was a necessary one. It took a lot of tact, sensitivity, and a major commitment of time to assume this role. I was glad I had several months to build relationships before I took this on.
The second year started out easier; my "place" seemed established. That was the year, however, I started ignoring the radar and began actively working on staff development for school improvement. Even though many positive relationships were in place, at least half the faculty resented my doing this, for a variety of reasons. Some just resented change in general, and would have reacted negatively to ANY attempt; those were easier to take. Some were brazenly outspoken, openly questioning my role. It was very apparent that a lot of the criticism handed my way was really criticism of the principal, but I was a handier target. Thankfully, many were appreciative and what came to be my "core group" supported me privately — their positive responses helped my skin grow thick enough to mostly ignore the barbs.
Still, this was the year that I decided it was worth risking it all to proceed with an active leadership role. I was worried that a misstep or failure would make it necessary for me to leave the school. The possibility of leaving a positive mark made the risk worthwhile. At the end of that year, quite a few unhappy teachers did leave, but I stayed. Generalizations: I do not think I would have been at all successful with this my first year. Thick skin, tenacity, and a core group of supporters is necessary for anyone providing staff development in their own school. Also, support of the principal is necessary but not sufficient.
Things are much better now. I think the staff, in general, is much happier and the change effort seems to be succeeding. The staff is particularly pleased with the university internship program I brought to our school. I'm still perceived (correctly) as having a special role with the principal, but staff members have come to view that more positively. They often come to me for consultation before going to the principal when they are unhappy — sometimes I think of Lucy with her "psychiatrist - 5 cents" sign. I am a good listener. Sometimes I offer mentoring. Sometimes I offer to talk to the principal about an issue, often providing them anonymity (wow, there's some trust I had to earn!). Sometimes I just go with them to discuss things with the principal. Given my open relationship with the principal, it's odd to me that they still think they need this, but it's because their old principal was so difficult to deal with. Generalizing, the abilities to effectively listen, communicate, and mediate are valuable skills for a teacher leader.
My efforts at staff development this year are better accepted; I'm aware of only two staff members that are still unhappy with this. True, some came around only because they were given a choice of taking district staff development or participating in our school-based efforts, but, hey, I'll still take that as a compliment. I've become more deeply involved in leadership at the District level. Most of the staff perceive this as a positive thing, since I can not only give them a "heads up" to prepare for District initiatives but also serve as a school voice providing input to initiatives.
I have a core group who are genuinely excited about learning, improving, and changing. We have study groups and the principal has been quite generous in sending us to conferences and training that we are interested in. A few others complain it's not fair for "some people to get all the trips," but the principal has made it clear that she will support the efforts of any staff member who wants to get on board. Again, the support of the principal is essential, I think, to the success of a teacher leader.
I have gone through some tough times personally this year. The same staff members who treated me in such puzzling ways now support me as I deal with these issues. Perhaps success as a teacher leader is all about relationships? But then, relationships are what life is really about....
It's been an interesting journey. I'm not through yet, but the effort is surely worthwhile.