Saturday, April 14, 2012

3 Practices for 21st Century School Leaders

In an interview with James Bellanca, education scholar Linda Darling-Hammond clearly delineates 3 practices  administrators must engage in to bring our schools into the 21st century. (The interview can be found in the book 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn.)
"School leaders in the next decades need to engage in three practices that we haven't always seen as part of school administration. First is constructing time for teachers to work together on the development of curriculum and assessments. Second is designing and implementing comprehensive professional development programs. This includes formation of professional learning communities, providing coaching and mentoring for teachers who have been identified as needing additional assistance, and encouraging peer support teams that address the special needs of struggling students. Third is helping teachers find another profession if they are unable to improve after having received purposeful support."
These 21st century educational leadership practices are clear. If we as school leaders are going to recreate our schools to "meet the intellectual demands of the 21st century" then we must be willing to engage in these 3 practices.

  • As 21st century school leaders, we must advocate and work hard to reconstruct our time and school day so that our teachers can collaborate on curriculum development and assessments. The kinds of learning our students need today require the development of learning activities that are authentic. The kinds of teaching that needs to occur needs to move away from teacher-centered to student-centered learning. We must look at our allocation of time and quit making excuses for keeping the same old school schedules that prevent this collaboration. We need to be willing to advocate for school-day restructuring that gives teachers the time they need to work collaboratively on curriculum development, assessment development, and planning. As 21st century school leaders we need to stop holding the 8-3:30 school day as sacred and unchangeable and make teacher collaboration time happen.
  • As 21st century school leaders we need work to design and implement professional development programs that address the needs of our schools. In times of budget cuts, we, as school leaders have sat idly by while our lawmakers have destroyed our professional development budgets. Some of us have been guilty of seeing professional development as expendable. It isn't. We need to move into a full-blown advocacy role that says professional development is necessary. It isn't some add-on. Being a  professional development leader  means taking the lead in forming authentic professional learning communities. It means providing coaching and assistance for those teachers who have identified needs. It means leading authentic discussions about those students who aren't making it. Twenty-first century school leaders are committed to professionally developing the teachers in their schools.
  • Finally, we, as 21st century school leaders need to accept the responsibility and the courage to do as Hammond suggests, which is helping teachers find another profession if after all of the support we've provided fails. Even good teachers want us to take care of those who just don't have it, but they want us to do it with dignity and fairness. School leaders need to be skilled in knowing when this needs to happen, and have the courage to do so.
These three practices can have direct impact on teaching and learning in our schools, but they do require a willingness and courage to move beyond excuses. We must not forget that our students and our teachers depend upon us being 21st century leaders, and that means engaging in practices like these three.

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