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Friday, April 18, 2014

It All Starts At The Top

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I spent 20 years in the Navy. 10 years of active duty followed by 10 years of reserve duty. My wife spent 23 years in the Navy, all active duty. I've also been able to work in 8 different schools in 7 different school districts. The one constant for all of these? Leadership is the key to the business environment (school culture) and the environment/culture is the key to good things happening.

Wherever I have worked I have witnessed school leadership that has created a culture of winners. I've received Battle E's for ships and commands I have been associated with and I have been with schools that are at the top of their districts. And, I've known friends on other ships and commands or teaching in other schools or districts who have not been so fortunate.

What do all of these leaders have in common? A vision of where they want to be and a willingness to allow those who work for them to be successful. A third, important, factor is having a leader who insists upon everyone pulling their weight and working collaboratively toward a common goal.

I am currently working at a school with a leader who is never satisfied with the status quo. He demands more from himself and encourages each of us to do more than we might be comfortable doing. Because of this our school is becoming one of the best.

I can remember, two years ago, telling my 10th graders that I was leaving Manor New Tech to go to Decker Middle School (DMS) as the instructional coach. And, these 10th graders were only two years removed from that middle school. Their reactions were summed up by one of them saying, "why are you going to that ghetto school?"  In fact, when these 10th graders were first at DMS it was a ghetto school.

But in their last year at DMS, the school got a real leader. This man is still with the district but is now an assistant superintendent. He created a culture that was strict but showed these students that there was a lot of love and caring by their teachers and principals. This principal knew that the academics would come once the kids started caring about their school and about each other.

And so, last school year, DMS got a new principal and he and I came to this "ghetto school" unsure of what kind of a school it would be.  This principal immediately embraced the strict and loving culture that was in place and he brought in the next phase of progress - improved academics. He is a man who works hard to know everything he can about the academics that are going on in his building.

And this year we are reaping the benefits of having a strict, loving culture with sound academic principles.  We are seeing gains (modest, but steady) in all areas of our standardized testing scores and we are seeing a faculty who is becoming increasingly more aware of the importance of a collaborative environment for, not only the students, but for the adults in the building.

This school is heading fair and the sails are filling. As the great naval captain, John Paul Jones once said," I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast for I intend to go into harms way." Bring on those standardized tests. We are under sail and under way.