Support Your Staff

Interesting Ideas

Administrators, you are presented with an opportunity each year to make a profound impact on your staff and school climate. Why not utilize something that is a must do task and turn it into a school culture accelerator?

As part of the Teacher Performance Appraisal process teachers are asked to set goals using a document named the Annual Learning Plan (ALP).  I imagine in many districts some form of goal setting is done with, done to or done by teachers in order to move forward in their professional development.

What an amazing opportunity to assist your teachers, lead by influencing and move staff toward the desired practices and learning that connect with the school and the system goals. Do you use this opportunity or is it a ‘task’ that gets little attention?

And, yes, while the ALP is a teacher document and they drive the decision about what their learning goals are going to be for the year, there are some steps you can do as a leader to improve this process for your teachers and most importantly improve the conditions for your learners in the building.  As a leader you do have a role.

Start by being really honest with yourself about this aspect.  What does this annual expectation look like in your school?  What is the buy in by staff?  Do you see high quality, stretch goals by your teachers?  Do teachers put thought and effort into this process or is it just ‘get it done’? Do they recycle the same goal year after year because no one ever discusses it with them? Do you read their goals at all? And if you see them what do you do with them?

Effective Schools researcher Kyla Wahlstrom (2010) has stated that there are three high powered practices that really assist leaders in their buildings.   These are the ‘difference makers’.  

  1. “ focusing the school on goals and expectations for student achievement”
  2. “ creating structures and opportunities for teachers to collaborate”

And the big one in relation to this blog

3. “keeping track of teachers’ professional development needs”

So once again, ask yourself do you know the pd needs of your teachers?  Do the needs you identify come from them or put upon them?

The buy-in for any goal is critical. It is really difficult to accomplish someone else’s goal, or a goal that is suggested to you during a performance review.  Even if it is good for us.  But a goal created by the practitioner themselves is a really successful start.  ‘If you can name it, you can tame it!”  How do you get your staff to start to goal set in areas of need or in relation to school and district goals?

It starts with you investing in their goals.

There is such a strong connection between leading and learning.  My leadership stance has always been that am going to support our people to the best of my ability in the attainment of their described learning needs.  News travels fast. And when teachers know that you are supportive and involved, the quality of the goals and the involvement of the teachers escalates.  

The Ontario Leadership Framework defines leadership as “the exercise of influence on organizational members and diverse stakeholders toward the identification and achievement of the organization’s vision and goals.”  A goal setting process involving both the administrator and the teacher checks off so many ‘boxes’ within the leadership framework.  Working with the teacher on their self created goal is all about ‘setting directions’, ‘building relationships and developing people’, ‘developing the organization to support desired practices’, ‘improving the instructional program’ and ‘securing accountability’.  Working alongside your teachers, supporting them in the achievement of their goals is a high leverage leadership practice.

On-going learning is so important.  Our very best teachers, every year, find ‘something’ that they want to add to their program or their practice.  They are constantly refining what they do and how they do it.  I want staff that work hard at being effective and investing in themselves in order to support the students that are continuing to change and develop.  We need our teachers asking, ‘What do I need to learn?’ And then set goals that lead them on a journey of improvement.

Here is what I did…

I made the whole process very transparent.  Those that have been with me in the past know that this is coming and each year new staff are introduced to the process.  Their goal setting document, the Annual Learning Plan is due each year by October 30th.  Once they are collected I go through each one and create a large master document indicating the goals for every one of my teachers on staff. The document has their name with a brief description of their goal.  I share with the staff during a learning session a photo of the document with names crossed out or get the permission of a few staff to share a section of the document with everyone so they can see it exists.  It looks something like this…

Since our goal setting document is done electronically, it is easy for me to go in one at a time and copy and paste their goal beside their name.  I highlight any key initiatives such as collaborative problem solving, math instruction, inquiry, technology, communication with families, documentation etc and look for common themes.  Remember these are goals our staff have selected.  Yes, some have required a conversation.  Ultimately I understand that it is their goal and the collective agreement with the teachers’ union indicates the goal cannot be given to them.  A self created goal based on the professional judgement of the teacher is the intent of this process.  However, that does not mean there cannot be a supportive conversation. I will share with you that without a doubt, the quality of the goals improve when there is a history of involvement, interest and support from the administration.   

With the goals on a master page, it is displayed prominently on the bulletin board in my office. You can begin to look for partnership opportunities.  You can look for book study opportunities.  You can look for professional activity day content, staff meeting learning content etc. When resources came into the school I can check the list and make sure those that are interested in the content are exposed to the opportunity.  When our school board asks for a representative to learn at a session in a train the trainer model in order to come back and share resources and/or practices with others. I know who to ask.  When I am fortunate to receive a new resource through a conference or workshop, after I am finished with it I know who to give it to.  After reading a professional journal or article I know who to share the information with.

In a previous blog I wrote about staff meetings becoming staff learning sessions and this process will allow you to group staff in order to share their learning goals.  What a wonderful opportunity for the leaders on your staff to assist those that are looking to increase their knowledge.  A definite win/win for both the giver and the receiver.

And a big one, it answers the question, ‘why did so and so get to go to, or do that, or get that?’.  They were selected because it is part of their professional growth goals for the year.

I guarantee the quality of the goal setting you will see in your building will improve when you make public your process of reviewing and supporting their goals.  Better goal setting leads to better learning by the adults and stronger connections on staff.  And I don’t have to tell you, this creates a better learning experience for your students.  Many of my blogs discuss school culture and climate.  Consider what this investment of your time, because yes, it takes time, demonstrates to the adults working in the building about what we stand for and what we believe in.  I believe in them, and will support them to become better.

As an administrator I am accustom to looking at others and saying, ‘How can I help?’  This is your opportunity to take something that already exists and invest in your staff.  This is your opportunity to make sure your building is a place of learning for both students and staff. This is your opportunity to bring to the forefront the desired practices and resources you would like to see being used.  This is your opportunity to guide your staff to the most current, relevant and responsive resources.  This is your opportunity to show your love for your people by having their goals acknowledged, supported and accomplished!

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