Paul Farmer

Paul Farmer is a practitioner who has worked at the classroom, building, and central office levels. As principal of Joyce Kilmer Middle School, Paul was one of the first principals in Fairfax County, Virginia, to build a PLC.

Modeling Reflective Leadership in Your PLC

As a leader of learners, do you ever wonder if you are providing the leadership your staff wants?

You have dedicated time to address the culture in your PLC and established clarity on expectations of staff and students; you promote and protect the values of your teams to move your PLC forward, along with a host of other types of support. And yet, with all of this commitment on your part, you hear some staff still gossiping about what they wish you would do.

Being an administrator from two schools that built high-functioning PLCs, I feel sure my staff said the same thing about me more than once. Here is a suggestion to allow your faculty and staff to clarify the kind of leadership they hope you will provide and a way for you to use their input to help you become a better servant leader.

Erkens and Twadell (2012) discuss how some of the most effective leaders they interviewed use modeling as a strategy for setting expectations of others. They discuss ways to model leadership, which inspired me to write about how we decided to model the use of feedback and data. It started by soliciting input from the staff at a faculty meeting.

This information was gathered by asking staff members to write one trait they would like for their leader or supervisor to know about their leadership style, skills, or traits, but without writing any names or reference to a specific leader. Answers were written on an index card, and the teachers put their card in a box as a ticket-out-the-door activity at the end of the meeting. The leadership team reviewed the responses and, when needed, converted the staff responses about leadership into a positive or benign statement. Then we used the statements to create a leadership survey with a Likert scale (Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree)  to tally the responses.

Example: Is not approachable!

Conversion: Makes time for me when I would like to talk a minute

Example: Wants to make all the decisions

Conversion: Shares decision making with others

The survey was conducted in a way that required responses from all staff but in an anonymous way. The leadership team wanted candid feedback but also wanted to avoid modeling the use of partial data to make decisions for improvement. The first time this was done, the person of focus was me, the principal. This modeled an openness to request feedback on performance; the survey provided great information that helped me grow as an administrator. Positive and negative results were tallied and shared with the staff along with an action plan to improve my leadership practice. Within a few months, some team leaders and department chairs were willing to replicate a similar survey with their teams, which eventually led to teachers replicating the practice in their classrooms with their students.

How do you know you are providing the leadership your staff expects from you?

How are you modeling skills for the adults you work with?

Comments

jing.liu

A reflective leadership is very helpful in the process of PLC. Staff members may confuse, frustrate, and misunderstand while working towards PLC. An effective communication is very necessary between staff and leadership team. The outcomes will not only benefit the administrator to have a better leadership, but will also direct the leaders to support the staff members in their professional development. An anonymous survey is just a mean to make sure every ones’ real voices are heard-positive/negative, agreement/disagreement, praise /criticize. This progress will increase accountability and trust between staff members and leaders.

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Paul Farmer

When it comes to something different I find that if I am able to model the event, then share actual benefits it offered for me as a professional it would be accepted more frequently than if I was to say something like "I have a good idea, have you thought about doing ....." Instead it was "I just tried ... and this is what turned out to be really helpful, do you think that could be something we consider on a larger scale?

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Paul Farmer

sejones1,
If I may offer a suggestion the next time around during one of these meetings.. It may help if the person/s asking the question could also offer a solution or answer to the question or request. After the answer is shared with the administration, follow up by asking "Would this be something you could support?" At times it seemed my staff thought I should have the best answer and usually "we" found that as a team "we" had the best answers to many different situations.

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sejones1

I really agree with Paul but my admin let us have say so in our meetings but it do be times to where they kinda push us off when we ask a question that makes them think about a great answer to give us and that makes us have a meeting after the meeting with all the teachers.

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Julesp12

Kim, you make a great point that it's important that during the evaluating experience, the teachers understand it's not "bash-the-administrator" time, because I'm sure some teachers might really let loose! Just as it is on our evaluations, teachers should note strengths of the administrator along with any "target areas" to work on. Thinking more about this subject, I think that if this is a principal being evaluated, that the superintendent is aware of the feedback from the teachers, so the superintendent can also see what needs to be worked on and then can follow up later to see if it is happening. Does anyone have any suggestions how to bring this idea up to one's school or district? That's the part I'm still struggling with.

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kimberlyford

I love the idea. It sounds so effective if and only of the leader takes what is posed to heart. If you as the leader are able to accept criticism, and learn from it I am sure that this would be a beneficial strategy for all parties involved. At the same token it is important that the participants understand that this is not an acceptable time to bash the leader, but a time to better the instructor and future training sessions or PLC’s. I know being an educator, I wish there were times that I was able to pose comments and or suggestions regarding presentation by the administrators, because as we as teachers learn from our evaluations, I believe that it would be a great learning experience for administrators, or leaders as we well. Great Idea Paul and kudos to you for doing what you can to ensure a positive leadership role in your school.
Kim

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Julesp12

What a wonderful idea! I wish I could submit this idea to our school without making our principal feel defensive. We had something similar done in our school at the end of the year, but not with the same kind of effective result. The teachers were asked to write anonymous notes on 3 index cards: What's one thing that you feel really works well, one thing you feel you can "live with," and something you feel needs definite improvement. Unfortunately, the principal stayed in the lounge the entire time we wrote, could therefore watch us (or so we felt) drop cards into the designated boxes, and we knew she would be on the team that would read these cards. It was very uncomfortable and as a result, I didn't write down some of the things that bothered me most. This is so much better and effective, and would go a long way towards building a healthy, happy school culture. Similar to what Bill stated, we teachers are always reminded that it is our teaching being evaluated, not ourselves, so why can't we extend this philosophy to principals? It doesn't make much sense for the principal to evaluate (and to be fair, mentor) teachers but the role isn't reversed.

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Bill Ferriter

I totally dig this, Paul.

One of the uncomfortable truths in #atplc schools is that principals ask teachers to be incredibly vulnerable with one another every time that common assessment -- or standardized test -- scores come back yet they almost never model that same vulnerability with their faculties.

Administering surveys like the one that you describe above is a remarkably simple and straightforward way to model a process that teachers must be willing to embrace if a focus on results is ever going to take hold in a building.

Thanks for writing about this...
Bill

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