Oct 22

Becoming the School Leader I Needed as a Teacher

October 22, 2015
Shoshana Tyler, Assistant Principal
Global Leadership Academy

The year was 2007 – I was fresh out of college and poised to embark on my first year of teaching. I worked tirelessly. I was obsessed with the ultimate goal of being an impassioned, tactile and resourceful classroom facilitator; one who empowered children both in and out of the classroom.

Each school year I tried to take an honest inventory of how I was doing. Where had I improved from the previous year? In what areas did I still need to grow? It’s true that the craft of teaching becomes easier with time – the sights and sounds of the classroom begin to slow down. The peripheries aren’t as distracting; the challenges, less daunting. For consecutive years I helped lead my scholars to make significant gains on state-wide assessments. As both a teacher-mentor and small learning-community leader, I was frequently called upon to share best practices with my colleagues.  And yet if I had to characterize my time in the classroom, in spite of the positive acknowledgement and increased responsibilities, I experienced many more “What in the world am I doing?” days than “I’ve got this in the bag!” ones.

Today, when I reflect on the “glows” and “grows” of my time as a teacher, what I really needed were a few simple things.

At the top of the list was meaningful feedback – be it positive, negative, or somewhere warmly nestled in between.  As educators, too many of us work blindly; null of a true reference point or perspective on where we are excelling and where there are glaring, immediate areas of needed improvement. The sheer scope of the work makes it extremely difficult to see exactly where you need to prioritize your time and attention.

I yearned for more opportunities to engage in dialogue with my school leaders on how I could directly improve my practice. Deliberate, objective, and specific feedback is paramount to professional growth. I wanted perspective on some of the challenges that I ran out of solutions for. I wanted a thought partner; someone who identified, understood, and invested ownership in my goals and valued my individual growth.

In June of this year I became a PLUS resident. Quickly, I realized that I could be the change that I felt so many of our schools needed when it came to proactive, effective, and transparent school leadership.  PLUS is a highly competitive school leadership program committed to building and empowering the next generation of instructional leaders.  At the heart of its mission is the belief that, in order to drive student outcomes, there needs to be a transformational principal in every school.

My experience with PLUS has helped groom me into the kind of leader that I would have loved to have as a teacher. As an assistant principal, I wear a million hats. But I have learned to prioritize my time and to recognize that my biggest impact must still be made at the classroom level. It’s within the classroom that beautiful beings with limitless potential come in smiling every day, despite what circumstances exist outside of school. Teaching and learning must remain the crux of my work. Even though I do not directly impact scholars the way I did at the classroom level, all decisions that I make must keep them, and their achievement, at the forefront.

While they used to feel like a chore, I now find joy sitting in classroom observations. I often find myself holding back ear-wide grins when I see and hear evidence of teachers having implemented the latest feedback from our coaching conversations. I see the excitement in the eyes of children who are the true, real-time witnesses and beneficiaries of the improved instructional practices of their teacher. Moreover, I look forward to my weekly teacher feedback meetings and make it a point to ensure that our time together is protected and sacred.

I show my teachers through my actions that I am committed to supporting them in the hard work they do daily. I praise them authentically and specifically, offering objective observations and a means of resolving problems. I listen. We talk openly about areas where they need to grow. And I check the quality of my own feedback against my teachers’ ability to implement it, keeping the purpose of feedback top of mind for our team.

PLUS has reminded me that great school leaders do so much more than manage people – they inspire them.

So where am I at today? My title is Assistant Principal, but I’m really a learner; a researcher; a thought partner and my teachers’ biggest cheerleader. I look forward to my weekly debrief meetings in which I confer with some of the most resilient, dedicated and well-intentioned educators on the planet. Although school leadership comes with a multitude of responsibilities, offering solidarity and instructional support to classroom teachers is crucial. The teachers I support deserve a leader who is equally as steadfast in the mission to develop spirited and empowered learners.

Thanks to PLUS I feel more equipped to effectively lead these educators. While my purpose and passion has always been there, PLUS has truly refined my skillset. Armed with a powerful set of tools to impact scholar achievement school-wide, I have now transformed my passion into meaningful practice.