Back-to-school supplies are starting to line the shelves. Administrators, instructional coaches, and teachers have goals swimming around in their heads, even while they’re still enjoying their summer breaks. Educators new to positions have many questions as well.
- How will I build relationships with new staff and students?
- How will I monitor my impact?
- How will I document goals?
- How will I empower staff and students to reach new heights?
Tara Notz, an Iowa educator, is entering her second year as elementary principal of Andrew Community School District and even though these questions still play out in her mind, she is much more confident. I recently had the opportunity to visit with Tara and learned about her journey, particularly how she monitors school goals.
Last year, Tara did a lot of experimenting. As a new administrator she felt it important to be visible to staff and students. Her main goal was to be in classrooms often; she wanted to provide teachers with ongoing feedback and assist in their reflection process. She wanted her conversations with teachers to be specific and goal-driven.
Yet she knew there was a fine line. She didn’t want to overwhelm teachers—she wanted to build meaningful relationships with them as she developed a team approach to professional learning. Most importantly, she wanted to empower teachers be successful so that students would thrive.
The process of frequent classroom visits followed by reflective dialogue would be new to both her and the staff. She gave herself permission to experiment. Tara knew it would be important to document her work with teachers, just as she had done with her students in the past. She set out to find tools that worked for her.
During the first semester, Tara built an informal walkthrough form based off one she received from Grantwood AEA. She had teachers assist her in revising the form so that feedback would be meaningful and add value, rather than be seen as an evaluative or compliance measure.
Once her walkthrough form was finalized, Tara tried many formats, both on paper and electronically, for delivering feedback and facilitating growth conversations. During the third quarter, Tara found TeachBoost, a web-based instructional leadership platform that facilitates more frequent and meaningful classroom walkthrough. The platform was quite comprehensive, so she gave herself permission to start slow and scaffold her own learning of this new tool.
The TeachBoost staff helped her upload her existing informal walkthrough form. Now, not only would the information collected continue to guide her dialogue with a more specific focus, but the TeachBoost platform would also allow her to schedule observations, get automated reminders, review data over time and across teachers, and monitor progress along the way.
By the fourth quarter, teachers were starting to embrace the feedback. They were excited to be growing as educators. One-on-one meetings with teachers generated new ideas that could be immediately implemented and observed in the classroom, as well as longer-term goals the teachers could be working toward. And because Tara had a seamless tool to record this information, the process was more about goal-setting rather than the recording mechanism. Goals were handy; goals were monitored; goals pushed teachers and students to new heights.
Best of all, these informal observations and feedback sessions weren’t viewed as evaluatory—they were empowering teachers, and in turn students, to be more successful.
The 2015-16 school year will bring additional learning. State (Iowa) Teacher Leadership Compensation (TLC) funding will allow teacher leaders some release time to serve as an instructional coaches, and Andrew Community School District has identified current classroom teachers to serve in this dual role. Tara is excited to work with these teacher leaders as they grow in their new capacity. She knows they will need to start slow, but she is confident that with time teacher leaders will be able to benefit from TeachBoost as well.
You can also reach Tara Notz via twitter to arrange to hear more of her story.