This is her second year as a principal.
Following is her reflection on the implementation of a literacy initiative at the high school and her role as an instructional leader.
In reflecting upon the process of implementation of literacy integration here at Mt. Blue High School, many factors and layers are involved. I inherited this professional development initiative upon taking the position of principal at our school. I truly had no concept of the depth of literacy issues, nor any ideas on how to address them in our school. Enter the Western Maine Educational Collaborative (WMEC), our literacy consultant, Darlene Bassett, the University of Maine at Farmington, and six brave teachers from a variety of disciplines, who expressed an interest in addressing this concern in our school.
WMEC works with schools in our area to pool resources and to provide relevant professional development for our teachers. The model that was presented to me in my first month as principal included several schools in the collaborative, credits honored by the University of Maine at Farmington for teachers involved, and the expertise and experience of Darlene Bassett. Over the summer, I recruited six teachers who felt strongly that this concern needed to be addressed cross-curriculum. They agreed to a commitment of a year’s worth of hands-on coaching and curriculum delivery in conjunction with other schools. One of our administrators, Scott Walker, then assistant principal and athletic director, also participated in the class and acted as the lead organizer here at school. Though I was not directly involved in much of the planning and details, I was on the periphery, and I could clearly see the benefit of such a model in our school.
As a leader, I believe that it is my responsibility to encourage reflective growth and to facilitate best practices in our school. With little knowledge regarding secondary literacy strategies, I believed that Darlene, as the expert, was going to give the teachers what they needed to begin addressing these concerns at the high school level. Then, if she were successful, the six teachers involved would be able to work with their peers to expand the concepts. This is what happened during the 2008-2009 school year. In referring to the Continuum of Self-Reflection: Coaches’ Model (Hall and Simeral 41-42), our teachers involved in the cohort moved along the continuum from the unaware and conscious stages to the action stage, with Darlene as their coach. They found much success in applying the strategies directly and immediately in their classes. The literacy strategies evolved into “thinking” strategies, which assisted in applying them cross curriculum. Due to our professional development structure of department common planning time and early release days, we began to tap into the “coaching strategies that foster reflective growth” (Hall and Simeral 42). This allowed us to spread the word of the success of these strategies, and other teachers asked about the potential of being involved in the literacy cohort for the following year.
This led me to consider our school goals for the 2009-2010 school year. In my educational career, I have experienced working in schools that either have no clear school goals, or who change these goals from year to year. As I considered all that we ask of our teachers, it seemed to make sense to continue with literacy as a school wide goal and to sustain this track of professional development. Darlene was available, there was definitely interest, teachers were seeing progress, and what could be more important that both literacy and thinking strategies as we consider the education of our students?
From my perspective, the second year has been far more successful than the first. We have doubled the number of staff involved to 14, we have teachers acting as coaches to their colleagues, all departments are exposed to the concepts, and we are starting to use a common language across the disciplines.
In working with Darlene, UMF, and the WMEC, we were able to offer a second course for teachers. I participate with six teachers in the second year of training (EDU 591) and we have seven teachers in the year one course (EDU 590). The structure is such that the 591 teachers are matched as coaches with the 590 teachers. This has allowed our coaches to work as “mentors in the action stage and collaborators in the refinement stage” (Hall and Simeral 42). This has been amazing for me to watch, since it has been wonderful in opening up our classrooms. What used to be a school with highly individualized classrooms, with virtually only curriculum in common as far as instructional purpose, has opened itself up for feedback. What better means of working as professional learning community than to welcome colleagues into classrooms and to ask for feedback to improve instruction? The level of trust has increased, and, with thirteen teachers from five different departments trained to incorporate literacy strategies into lessons, we have certainly impacted the teaching and learning that is happening in our school.
We also added one more layer this year. We dedicated three early release days to sharing the work that our literacy cohorts are doing and have asked that the involved individuals work with their colleagues on implementing strategies in all classes. We have tweaked the design of the sessions based on faculty feedback, and we have found that modeling the concepts, then working within departments seems to bring the most success. The expectation that everyone use strategies in their classes, while allowing them both time and support to do so, has allowed the concept of literacy at the high school to expand. We are not all the way there yet, but we continue to make progress, and we are seeing results with our students. The even greater impact has been the staff directed professional development that has helped to initiate and maintain a school wide cohesiveness.
In the end, what impact has this initiative had to date on our school? It has given teachers a voice in our professional development and has allowed them to collaborate across the disciplines on a topic that impacts us all. It has unified us in at least one mission, and though we don’t have everyone on board yet, we continue to work toward that end. It has allowed us to use a common language and to trust each other in our classrooms. It has removed some of the isolation that we feel as individual teachers and within departments and has encouraged conversations around student work and the hurdles that exist for many of our students.
In reflecting personally on my role throughout the process, I refer to the Continuum of Self-Reflection: Administrator’s Model (Hall and Simeral 148-151). I find that we have teachers at all stages of awareness. My responsibility is to determine the stage, then provide feedback to encourage reflective growth. I believe that this reflection applies not only to where our teachers stand in relation to the use of literacy strategies, but to all effective practices in the classroom. All are at varied levels depending on the topic, and the more I can encourage them to move along the continuum, the more effective we will be in regards to improving teaching and learning at Mt. Blue High School. This will not happen in isolation, though, and so the work and support of our coaches will be vital to this goal as well.
I look forward to future work and progress regarding literacy in our school. We have proposed the continuation of our work with Darlene Bassett, who has been a wonderful guide in our journey, and we plan to have a literacy leadership team at our school next year. We also intend to embed another school goal, the use of technology, into the sustained literacy professional development we have in mind for next year. If it is vital that we help our students to make connections between disciplines and to the world around them, it is also important that we do the same for our teachers.
The true kudos go to our literacy leaders and teachers who have opened up their minds and their classrooms as we ventured down the road of literacy at the secondary level. The thirteen teachers now involved have taken risks and have found success. More kudos go to those who have taken advantage of the professional development that has been offered to them on our early release days, and who are currently applying these strategies successfully with their students. Change takes an open mind and courage, and we are fortunate to have teachers who exhibit both here at Mt. Blue High School.