An Individual Perspective on the Power of Great Visions and Implementation Through Systemic Alignment

Over the last year, I have read a lot of statements that LA Believes and education reform consist solely of platitudes, propaganda, and spin. I have my individual views of the changes taking place and what I can say is when you experience any type of success through collaboration, coordination, and implementation of various parts of the reforms; when you see how it works from state leadership to classroom leadership in order to benefit students; and when you begin to see various initiatives (only one example is provided in this document) expand through support of state leaders, organizations, individual educators across the state, and educators outside of the state, those statements become less true…for me at least. The following provides a basic outline of my perspective of what is taking place and is based on feedback from other educators and my personal experiences:

An Example of Establishing a Great Vision and Systemic Alignment

Governor Jindal: Improve Education and Increase Student Achievement and Opportunities for Students & Families/Create a System of Leaders to Achieve That End

1.            Vision for education in LA

2.            Hire professionals at state level that can communicate and lead on that vision to ensure implementation is successful

3.            Prioritize funding for grants and programs that will help state-level professionals, organizations, and ground level professionals lead in implementation

4.            Create and maintain a culture at a state level where professionals are identified to lead based on skills needed and based on results, not “who they know;” and recognize and reward professionals for their work and achievement of results.

Governor, BESE, Legislators:

Appointed/confirmed state Supt. of Education based on skill-level and results to develop a plan and communicate with ground-level professionals, organizations, stakeholders; and use organizational skills in creating a more efficient DOE to provide support, guidance, and create opportunities for educators to connect and lead on initiatives that would bring resources to teachers and help students and parents.

Legislators:

Working with the Governor, BESE, State Superintendent, DOE, their constituents, and educational stake-holders to pass/enact laws that will best prepare our students for college/career and provide support/resources to teachers and other educators.

BESE:

Working with Supt. and DOE on policies that will support successful implementation for ensuring our students are college/career ready.

Supt. White and LDOE:

Reaching out to communicate vision, get feedback on implementation, integrate that feedback to inform policy changes, and create additional supports for district, school, classroom leaders, students, and parents.

How Great State Leader Visions Combined With Systemic Alignment Can Lead to Development and Execution of Ground-Level Initiatives

 1. Governor Jindal provided funding for grants to help teachers gain PD and resources for successful implementation of CCSS to best help students thrive with a higher set of standards.

2. Supt. White and LDOE have created opportunities (e.g., LA Believes Advisory/Teacher Leaders) for educators to get connected and learn from each other about how best to utilize different skill sets to reach out to other educators and provide training in schools to help both educators and students be successful.

3. Professional organizations (A+PEL/Stand) applied for a grant through a funding source made available by Gov. Jindal to create the Instructional/Educator All-Star group to help develop additional opportunities for leadership and development of PLCs in each school.

4. Ground-level educators have taken advantage of these opportunities (e.g., LABelieves Advisory, Teacher Leaders, A+PEL/LA Stand Instructional/Educator All-Stars) to get involved, learn, and lead on initiatives while keeping some core principles of the LABelieves vision in mind:

a. Belief that all students can achieve

b. Belief in abilities of educators working directly with students to make the best decisions for students

c. Importance of collaboration among all levels of the system (state, local, classroom, professional organizations, etc.), and

d. Empowerment of ground-level educators combined with guidance and support from state, district, school, and professional organization leaders.

The link below (a repost of a June 11th Google document on Louisiana Teachers) provides just one example of how good collaboration, teamwork, and leadership through state to classroom alignment has worked in practice. From my perspective, it is an illustration of how:

1. Our state’s adoption of CCSS and belief in educators and students;

2. Our Governor’s, Legislators’, and BESE’s support,

3. Our State Superintendent’s and DOE’s development of and strategies used to implement the LABelieves’ plan; and

4. Organizational and individual educator efforts to communicate that vision, encourage technology, and connect and support educators to re-deliver information and lead on initiatives

have expanded to nationwide educator collaboration to support teachers and students:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1zCjGBDDSuuCju6nvxmGipGURMNH97cN6aqjHA_yHV_E/edit

As an educator, I find this to be incredible and exciting. It shows the leadership, involvement, support, and collaboration at all levels within the state and educator collaboration and support from outside of the state to help educators and students. From my perspective, it happened because of communication and teamwork at all levels. I am also aware of many other examples of this type of collaboration and work taking place; I would love to see others continue to share those experiences and get connected to and learn from them. The work taking place is absolutely amazing.

Rachel Magee

Educator

Perspective and Culture Change: My First Blog on My Experiences with LA EdReform

February 24, 2013

Yesterday, I received an e-mail and had a follow-up discussion with a teacher in response to the following article in the NewsStar:

http://www.thenewsstar.com/article/20130223/NEWS01/302230323/Kostelka-advocates-electing-superintendent-education.

In short, she was disappointed with the constant negative portrayal of State Superintendent John White and the “absolute” negative view of educational changes taking place. She said she and her students had very much benefitted from many of the changes implemented by Supt. White and knew some of her colleagues felt the same way. One of her colleagues, in fact, had been wanting to retire, but with the new changes has felt rejuvenated this year! I agree based on my own experiences and work with many teachers and administrators who also feel this way, so I decided to write my first blog and share some of those and previous experiences. I am only writing from my perspective of my own experiences; this is not a representation of the views of any organization or group with which I am affiliated.

Recently, I have read articles about how teachers who are frustrated with the education changes will not speak out for fear of their jobs. At the same time, I have had conversations with teachers who are reluctant to publicly express their excitement about the changes for fear they will be shamed, called naïve, and/or have their perspectives be devalued and chalked up to an affiliation with a particular organization. I share my thoughts some through social media, but can certainly identify with the general fear of speaking out regardless of the reason for that fear. I have some apprehension about writing this, but was encouraged by a teacher with 28 years of experience for whom I hold a great deal of respect. Most don’t want to get tied up in the politics of all of this. Most don’t want to be shamed or ridiculed for having a perspective. I don’t feel it necessary to choose a political camp in this reform debate. I think there are many parts that are working very well; I think we have a great leader; and I think it’s important to acknowledge those parts!

I began following aspects of the educational changes in 2010 with Act 54. This was largely as part of my work as an executive council member and regional representative for my own professional organization. I supported, promoted, and practiced an effectiveness model for school psychologists similar to SLTs for non-testing grades and subjects. I use the SLT model in my administrative role. I have outlined effectiveness ranges and a scoring plan and collaborated with my supervisor regarding these targets. I was not mandated to use this format at this time; I engage in this practice because I have seen good results for students, schools, and for my own professional focus and growth.

My views on these changes have varied and evolved over the last three years. During the 2012 Legislative Session, I testified in support of a bill that would postpone VAM for one year. I very much supported employment decisions based on effectiveness, but was unsure of VAM at that point in time. Many of the concerns I had have been addressed through both clarification and adjustments made over the last year, but I think it is important to continue to see how it works in practice. Through watching the actions of Supt. White with respect to taking in feedback and making appropriate adjustments, I am confident any issues will continue to be addressed—based on his responses to this point regarding this and other issues brought up, I have no reason to think otherwise.

After my experiences at the 2012 Legislative Session, I became more interested in learning all sides of the educational changes and their impacts, not only for my profession but for teachers as well. My mom is a teacher, and I have great respect for all she has done and continues to do for her students. She amazes me as many teachers I work with do!

Around May, I applied to serve on the LA Believes Teacher/Educator Advisory Committee to be a voice for teachers in my area and encouraged other teachers and principals in the area to also apply for their respective committees. I remember seeing a lot of remarks about the advisory committees being “window-dressing;” or if teachers reported positive experiences with the educational changes, and they were a member of LA Believes; their opinions were dismissed and chalked up to the fact that they served on the advisory committee. Having served on one of the advisory committees, and having varying opinions of my own; I can say that it has been a great deal of work—work absolutely worth doing, but not window-dressing at all.

I have met so many wonderful educators on these committees, all who have a sincere desire to help teachers and other educators by implementing these changes in their own classrooms and sharing those experiences, as well as, getting and providing feedback from teachers to Supt. White and the LDOE so adjustments can be made and training needs reported can be met. Adjustments to COMPASS, more professional development, and better communication were three areas many educators reported they wanted. One thing I have a hard time making sense of is that when these changes were made, theories about those changes emerged (e.g., redesign of LDOE website); or complaints arise, like in the article above, that there are too many changes being made. We started with confusion, frustration, and anger about the initial changes; requests were made for changes and training; but when those changes were made, complaints arose about the fact that there were more changes, and people were confused, angry, and frustrated. This seems like a Catch-22.

Over the last nine months, I have been increasingly impressed with Superintendent White’s commitment and leadership. He has redefined the role of Louisiana State Superintendent from one that has, in the past, been characterized by inaccessibility to educators at the school and classroom levels to a role where our State Superintendent makes himself available and listens to the issues for educators at every level, students, and parents; and then makes adjustments based on that information. There are 55,000+ educators, in addition to students, parents, organizations, lawmakers, advocacy groups, communities, etc…all with opinions and ideas about these changes and the future direction of Louisiana education. In getting feedback, I consistently hear how helpful teachers find it that Supt. White is available to them directly.

I have also read about challenges made to those who do not work in the classroom day-to-day to substitute for a period of time. I think that’s fair. Some legislators, I have read, have taken that opportunity, and it has reportedly been eye-opening. I can imagine! It is eye-opening for me when I observe students in classrooms and see what teachers do. You absolutely gain a different perspective and a much greater appreciation for the work, the struggles, and the successes that take place in the classroom. I think it is great to gain perspective by walking in each other’s shoes. We need to know what each other faces professionally to be better able to work together as a team. I do also wonder what two weeks in our state superintendent’s shoes is like as well…or in our principals’, local superintendents’, and students’ shoes…

Recently, I was in a teacher meeting and one teacher passed by and reported that she had tried something new in her class (empowering her students to lead the class which is a part of the COMPASS rubric). She said it was a little looser than she was used to, but it went really well! This was awesome because middle school teachers have reported the idea of letting go of control in their classrooms as being very scary for fear that fights will break out or no work will get done. This led to a group discussion on how taking responsible risks and empowering students can be scary but also exciting and lead to a great classroom experience.

A shift in culture is taking place. In some parishes and schools, it has been taking place and results have been achieved. I hear teachers that are frustrated, and I hear teachers that are excited. Neither is wrong for feeling the way they do; it’s not a right or wrong situation. Those that I’ve spoken to that are excited are either working in a district where they report their administration is collaborative, embracing the idea of ground-up change, and truly empowering them to make decisions and providing support; or in cases where teachers don’t feel like their district or school has quite made that culture shift, they are finding ways to empower themselves and redefine their roles in the classroom. For those that report being frustrated, there is usually a lack of support and/or a lack of rapport with school level administration. I work with others through their frustrations and feel my own frustration at times and others support me! The challenges, the positive and negative feelings, the excitement, the successes—it’s all very real and a normal part of change.  So I am left with two questions right now—

My first question is:  If a number of teacher, school, and district leaders have found success with these changes, isn’t it possible for others to as well?

I’m seeing it take place. I’m seeing cultures begin to change.  I’m listening to teachers report feeling rejuvenated and excited about their own growth and positive results they see in their students. I want that for all teachers…I want that for all educators, students, and parents!!

My second question is:  How do we maximize that?

I am a strong supporter of these changes–not because I am a member of ALEC; not because I have some alleged contempt for teachers; not because I am on the LA Believes advisory committee, or any other reason that has been used to explain why many support the changes…nor do I buy into those being the reasons others support these changes. I support these changes because I am watching change work and when I see it work, I want to keep raising the bar and expanding what works through sharing those experiences with colleagues; getting involved at a state level; and working with more schools to implement what is working.

One of the biggest problems I hear is that what the state is intending is not coming down in districts and schools. I see that, and culture shifts take time. I work with great administrators and this shift is difficult for them too. Letting go of control has been reported by both teachers and administrators as one of their top fears. This won’t work if we don’t take responsible risks and let go of that control in steps; but micromanagement has not worked at a classroom, school, district, or state level.

I encourage other administrators to empower teachers; give them opportunities to lead and let them identify areas of need and then create and build solutions; support them through frustrations by letting them share those frustrations, talk with them about what they need, and connect them to appropriate resources. Connect teachers and school leaders with professional development they tell you will benefit them, not just PD you think will benefit them. Let teachers and other professionals get the full experience of these changes as they are intended. Let them make mistakes and learn from those. Trust your teachers; trust and encourage school leaders to collaborate with their staff and identify areas of need and build solutions together. Step back and support them when they ask. Encourage and help teachers do the same with their students. Build schools with student, teacher, principal and other administrator leaders. Build relationships with parents, communities, and outside agencies who also serve to support our students.

Most importantly: let students, parents, teachers, school, district, and state leaders know often what you like that is happening and what is working!! We all need to know what to repeat and what to look at changing. These are just some of the things I’ve seen work in my own experiences–great things have and can continue to happen at all levels of our educational system!

I am so excited about what is taking place! I am enjoying opportunities to work with teachers and principals on implementing these changes and creating school-specific solutions to school-specific problems. I am enjoying working with state and teacher leaders through the advisory committees. I have great appreciation and respect for the leadership and example of our state superintendent in collaborating with others, reaching out and providing support through these changes, and setting the stage through policies for ground-level professionals and students to emerge as the leaders they are. Finally, I am amazed and have great respect for district, school, and teacher leaders for embracing these changes and coming up with solutions to address challenges they face.

Rachel R. Magee

Administrator