So I used to think that there was some magical formula or a needed in-depth plan to building capacity and strengths of others as a leader, but the longer I am a principal (I know a whopping 6 months) the more I realize this isn’t necessarily true.
This week my reading specialist came to me excited to share the work she started doing as a result of observing our speech and language pathologist a few weeks ago. We are wrapping up a second round of Fountas & Pinnell testing throughout the building and our teams have been noticing that students continue to struggle with the retell portion of the assessment. When we talked about observing one another as a school leadership team my reading specialist strategically chose one of our speech & language pathologists (SLP) because she had heard she worked with students on this specific skill.
During the observation, she noticed that our SLP used visual cards with images that helped students be independent in their retell. It was more than the typical “5 Finger Retell,” she used specific language and images that helped students with their specificity and organization of ideas. After her observation, she created her own version, went into classrooms and modeled the process for other teachers and then created a higher-level version for intermediate students. I informally observed her this week using the process with 5th-grade students and it was clear that this small shift was having an impact on their conversations about the books they were reading.
My reading specialist is clearly a leader in our building and has gone above and beyond all year looking for ways to build capacity in many dimensions of literacy. She collaborates with teachers, works with the instructional coach and even trains parents to be effective volunteers in classrooms. She is open to new ideas and generates new ones without prompting.
I’ve noticed that this type of creativity, dedication and attitude seems to pervade the staff, students, and parents as a whole in the Jefferson community. My happy little heart dances on a regular basis due to the flooding of creative ideas that are full in my conversations. This isn’t the case in every school across the country. So what’s the difference? Was this the result of a strategic plan for awesomeness with checkpoints and benchmarks? Not really.
When I think about the magic happening at Jefferson school I attribute it to these things.
- Each person on the staff has a multitude of inherent strengths.
- I spend the majority of my time as a leader talking to people (adults & kids) listening and looking for these strengths.
- When I see something wonderful, I name it and let the person know.
- When someone comes to me with an idea, I listen, ask questions, get excited and see what they need me to do. I follow-up on the ideas and try to see them in action.
- The people on my staff talk to one another frequently and collaborate often, in and out of team/PLC meetings.
- I look for opportunities to highlight the strengths of my staff whether it is giving opportunities to observe a peer, present at one of our Late Arrivals, or give a shout out on social media.
There are elements of these actions that are very purposeful like setting up observation opportunities and being present around the building, but I think that the most effective way to build the capacity of the others around us, is in our attitude. Instead of looking for ways to “fix people,” I spend the majority of my time looking for unique talents in their staff and students. It’s a shift from looking for problems in our building to there’s some untapped magic here to be discovered.
For me this week the magic came from my reading specialist. Last week it was the team of teachers taking a district-level class on Notice & Note asking if they could present their learning at a Late Arrival in February. Many times it’s been brilliant ideas in our SPED team meetings of unique ways to help kids who are struggling. Today I got an email from a Kindergarten teacher asking if she could write a grant for a sensory path for our school. I frequently overhear teachers sharing ideas in the copy room that’s across from my office. This week I can’t wait to go to our PLC’s on Tuesday because I get to see our teams collaborate and create brilliance together.
There are so many talents and ideas at Jefferson that I know I haven’t begun to discover or utilize. I find myself in awe of the creativity and uniqueness of the ones I have. Thank you to every member of my staff for giving me this gift.