This past May (2017), Edutopia posted an article about a Connecticut superintendent. When he assumed his post, he provided time for teachers to collaborate. His purpose was “to build trust to support reinvention” in order to breathe life into a stale system. That small change made a big difference as he discovered, “…the best ideas don’t always come from the superintendent’s desk. Sometimes it comes from our students or our families and many times it comes from a great teaching staff.”
The superintendent took direction from his staff and as professional development through collaborative conversations progressed, teachers transformed the system by “identifying and driving improvements across the district.” The rate of suspension decreased and student achievement increased significantly as a result of the superintendent empowering the teaching staff and school community in the system’s 12 schools (who serve a diverse population of 8,000 students-71% free/reduced price lunch).
This is a success story (and his work is to be commended)! Yet, when I read this story, I note that this superintendent assumed his post in 2010 and I question why this story is actually news. In other words, why isn’t the practice of empowering the school community, and most importantly our teachers, commonplace in schools throughout our nation… or our state?
I do wonder why we aren't "there," yet? I also wonder how many systems continue to struggle with creating a culture that empowers teachers to empower students? In 1990, researcher Kenneth W. Thomas studied the cognitive elements of empowerment within organizations. He defined empowerment as an increase in the motivation related to an assigned task. The assigned task must address four cognitions or mindsets.
- Provide the learner with a sense of impact,
- Contribute to a person’s sense of competence or self-efficacy,
- Hold meaning and purpose in order to intrinsically motivate the individual, and
- Offer choice to the individual, so one identifies him or herself as the originator of the idea.
When I see a news story celebrating this mindset of leadership in action, I am convinced it is still considered “non-traditional.”
Consider the societal implications related to the massive number of students who, for the past ten years or longer were (or continue to be) educated in systems where teachers were not (and still aren’t) provided the time or permission to collaborate. When a culture of collaboration, empowerment, and innovation is present (and encouraged), the capacity of the entire school community is amplified and achievement is increased.
This leaves us with some questions to consider:
What can be done to amplify this type of mindset in our school leaders?
How can those who are presently working in a stagnant system spark a grassroots effort to promote a culture that builds capacity from within?
How can those who are presently working within our schools make sure it doesn’t take an additional ten years for this practice to pervade our schools in Pennsylvania?
If you have some thoughts or some answers, feel free to comment below.
Dr. Anthony Muhammad will have those answers and more at Learning Forward PA’s Fall Institute on October 5, 2017 to be held at Harmony Hill Estate in Middletown, PA. Don’t forget to register by August 15 to get that Early Bird discount!
See you at the Institute!
Fran Miller, Ed.D.