The Administrator Growth Project: pressure and support

(Three Sisters Mountains, Canmore, Alberta)

This year, administrators in my school district are embarking on a journey of professional growth. It’s not that we haven’t worked on professional goals and growth plans in the past, because we have.  However, this year and for the next few years, administrator growth has been set as a priority by senior leadership and is set up as ongoing, embedded process of inquiry, professional learning and reflection.  Partnered with ‘critical friends’, Pamela Adams and David Townsend from the University of Lethbridge and Brent Galloway from Red Deer College, our administrator professional growth is being put front and center in our professional lives.  David Townsend laid it out very well in his talk at our administrators meeting today whereby we are trying to:

– know what we didn’t know before

– do what we didn’t do before, and

– apply what we learn to practice

When the admin growth project was first presented to us, there was much apprehension and worry in the room.  The project involves having a team of people including a senior administrator, one of the critical friends and a district administrator visiting school-based administrators in their building to talk about and foster administrators’ growth plans.  Talk about a buzz in the room! There was definitely fear about “evaluation” and lots of fear about opening up one’s practice to scrutiny.  A daunting proposal to be sure!  We were soon to learn that this was not to be about evaluation or scrutiny but about professional learning and growth at your own pace and for your own needs.  As Pamela Adams so eloquently put it: a balance between pressure and support.

Our journey began at our administrators’ retreat in the beautiful mountain town of Canmore where the foundation for the project was laid out for us and we were given time to reflect on our own leadership practices and work on pinpointing a goal or two to work on guided by the Principal Quality Practice Guideline from Alberta Education.  There was rich discussion along with exercises designed to get us thinking and moving forward toward our individual and in some cases, also admin team goals.  What really clinched the deal for most of us was seeing our Superintendent, Piet Langstraat model the process in front of us with David Townsend.  It was powerful to see our leader put himself in a vulnerable place and share the beginning of his own growth journey with us.  All in all, I found the process to be very positive and energizing!  When the retreat wrapped up and we returned to the prairies (boy, the Rocky Mountains are breathtaking!) we were also ready to start down the road to administrator growth and ultimately school improvement.

As a fairly new administrator, in my third year as a vice-principal, I found several areas from the PQP that I need to work on.  In particular, I was drawn to the following descriptors under Fostering Effective Relationships:

d) demonstrates responsibility for all students and acts in their best interests

e) models and promotes open, inclusive dialogue

f) uses effective communication, facilitation, and problem-solving skills

I managed to narrow down my goal to one word: communication.  Part of my job is vice-principal and the other part is Learning Assistance Teacher.  Instructional leadership plays a part of both of these roles and communication is at the heart of this.  As an administrator, I am an instructional leader through my professional conversations with teachers about teaching practice and through supervision and evaluation.  As a learning assistance teacher, I am an instructional leader in supporting inclusive learning environments for students by helping teachers with differentiating instruction, tiering activities and assisting individual students with learning challenges.

How I communicate with teachers in these roles is something I want to become better at. I am certainly no expert as an administrator and though I have many years of teaching under my belt, I do not proclaim to be an expert in all things teachers do with students.  The ways that I approach teachers in these conversations must include thoughtfulness, empathy and openness.  I also need to be mindful of how I listen to teachers and not jump to the problem-solving mode that administrators so often jump to when giving feedback on teaching practice.  I need to keep inquiry at the forefront and support teachers in finding their own answers to their questions.

I am looking forward to moving forward with my goal, learning more, practicing more and improving more.  The fact that I have a team of people coming to visit me each month to talk about my goal is exciting and will keep the accountability factor up.  I feel really supported in my admin growth and as daunting as these school-based visits with Sr. Admin and critical friends seemed at first, I now look forward to the day next month when they will return and we can continue the conversations around my goal which will push me forward in my learning.

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3 thoughts on “The Administrator Growth Project: pressure and support

      • Well, I think the reason it’s so important for me to see your side so clearly is that the development of the metrics of ed reform have been so difficult. I’m measuring 170 out of 250 of my students. It’s making me want to go work at McDonald’s again (my HS job) and not teach. I don’t think this is what reform intended–one of those not quite thought through consequences… While I’m hanging onto the chin-up bar, it makes me feel better to see inspiring educational leaders thinking about improvement too:)

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