August/September 2017

Onward Leaders Blog: Cohort 2

Onward Leaders Cohort 2 is firmly ensconced in the schools that they serve while Cohort 1 has taken on the role of Lead Leaner at their sites.   August and September for the Onward Leaders Resident Principal contains 10 days of training in the Vision for Faith, Excellence and Stewardship for schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. And then into the reality of principaldom, they all went.  August and September bring a sense of insecurity, of uncertainty, and thus hesitancy for the Onward Leaders Resident, as it would for all new leaders. Do I say anything if I see inefficiency? Do I question practices in place? Probably no, maybe, or yes?  But reflecting about the thinking behind practices and policies is the work of any lead learner. It is very complicated, and requires looking at the assumptions that drive current practices and systems at a school. It is exhausting and exhilarating.

One can read and train and practice for this work of leadership- but once confronted with its challenges, we often react rather than respond intentionally to the most benign triggers (I cringe as I use the word- but it is real for most people if one is honest.).   As I began on my journey of lead learner, I like so many of us, brought to the role my own experiences, my own “baggage”. Having parented a child that didn’t quite fit both academically or socially contributed to my view of school systems. I had to separate my emotional response to teachers who appeared to cast judgement about children who didn’t do their homework.  My gut reaction was to defend the parent, for I was that parent. What that teacher didn’t appreciate was the lengths we had gone to navigate the nightly drama of homework in our often limited family time, and make sure that all assignments were completed. We heard the teacher’s recriminations about our parenting in every “Work Habits– Needs Improvement” progress report that was sent home.  One year my husband and I played paper, rock, scissors to see who had to pick up the weekly call from one teacher who felt the only solution was a military experience. This child was 9. Knowing this about myself, allowed me to float around in that space between emotional reaction and well-reasoned action. And that’s why the lead learner takes the time to surround themselves with a team that challenges the leader’s assumptions without judgment and asks questions that identify what is driving our action and sometimes, non-action.

The job of lead learner is not a job fit for the singular hero. One needs a team that recognizes the humanity in the work and makes allowances for us mortals to actually be human. This job requires great humility, reminding ourselves that we will never be enough for some people; there will be those who will be looking for something bigger than we are.  If you can navigate towards the goal of “what would Jesus do?” and steer clear of making it about yourself, you might have a chance at making this leadership thing work and establish authentic partnerships with faculty, staff, students and parents that allow for all members of the school community to be human, to be less than perfect, but to strive for that unreachable goal nonetheless.

August Learning from Onward Leaders Cohort 2

In reading about PLCs I have been making a lot of connections between what good teaching looks like, and how that can be paralleled in leadership. Just as a classroom teacher- the culture of my classroom and the routines and systems were important -they will also be important in leadership.

Academic excellence is a pillar of Catholic schools. It means that not only do all students achieve, but teachers are given the tools to ensure the success of all students. Also, teachers need to grow professionally and in their own education, so that classroom instruction is effective and appropriate instructional strategies are used.  The PLC is a process in which teachers learn about their practice and improve upon it. It ensures that teachers and staff are collaborating and sharing best practices to improve student achievement. It also ensures a systemic focus on academic excellence.

A lead learner not only understands the importance of PLCs, but also understands the need for a culture that helps sustain PLCs. It is important to understand the challenges, as well as the strategies that are crucial for coherence. In addition, a lead learner finds the balance between the too tight and too loose problem. In order to sustain the process, the lead learner must establish both long term goals and short term goals. One can never forget to stop and celebrate both!

As I reflect on my learning for the week, I can see that it is important to collaborate. The position does not allow for you to sit and isolate yourself. I can see that my Mentor Principal collaborates with her staff and teachers quite a bit; keeping the students as her main focus. I learned that networking with people you might meet at a training session can also be valuable to one’s professional growth.

I observed my Mentor Principal negotiating tuition with an incoming family. It was a great experience to watch the conversation that she had with this family that was new to Catholic education. She outlined beautifully the value of the education their child would be receiving.

Differentiation is not solely about methodology. It entails fostering a classroom community, collecting data that is relevant in order to determine differences, and using that data to plan and adjust instruction.

God Bless,

Meg Samaniego, Onward Leaders Director