The evidence is clear: leadership impacts student learning. In our independent, international schools, teacher leaders are best positioned to have meaningful and lasting impact whether learning is face-to-face or remote. During these uncertain times, your team needs your leadership more than ever. Here are the top three things you can be doing as you lead your team remotely.1. Communicate with your team regularly with purpose.
Clear and consistent communication is more important than ever when we are physically isolated. Assume that your team members will benefit from more support than is usually needed. As the team leader, you will want to demonstrate through your communications that you understand, empathize, support, and are responding to the experiences of your team so you can help celebrate successes and problem-solve challenges.
Check in with individuals outside of regular meetings even more often than usual. Design a purposeful agenda for check-ins, driven by the same set of questions each time: What’s working? What’s not working? What do you need help with? When you ask about things that aren’t working, make it “safe to fail” and make “failure” a valued premise for learning. We are all out of our comfort zones and on a huge learning curve.
Clear and effective written communication is even more critical when you can’t run down the corridor to provide a more detailed explanation. Email messages should include the most important information your team needs to know in the most concise way possible.• Personalize messages.
Even if you are resending information shared with you as a team leader/department head from the principal, don’t just forward that message, make sure you personalize it for your team.• Keep the message clear.
Make the content explicit and concise with no room for confusion; use fewer and shorter words, active voice, get right to the point.• Include next steps/action items.
Ensure through your language that each team member knows what it is required of him/her.2. Remain focused on student learning.
Remote teaching has not changed our “why.” Your team’s goal is still to promote more and better learning for every learner. How can we keep this front and center? Ramp up your use of some of the key leadership tools such as:
• A mantra plastered everywhere, on all communications, planning tools, agendas, etc.
• What learning for what kids is at stake?
• “Everyone learning, everywhere” (ISC-Brazil’s mission).
• “Everyone included, everyone challenged, everyone successful” (ISB-Brussels’ mission).
• Focus your remote team time on the same important topics that you discuss in person: student learning.
Just as you would when you are meeting in person, ensure you have a simple, purposeful agenda for meetings. Make the following topics the core of your team meetings: Planning/Revising/Reflecting on Units; Planning/revising/reflecting on assessments; looking at student learning results; and the sharing of a research-based strategy/practice that directly impacts student learning. Base the team meeting schedule on a rotation of the core topics. It might look something like the one above.
• Continue to use agendas that are shared in advance of the meeting and record action items and decisions. It’s even more essential that remote meetings end with these questions:
• Who will do what by when?
• Who will communicate informally and formally to whom?
• What will be communicated about the decisions from today’s meeting?
• What are the next steps?
• Under what conditions would you be tempted to deviate from the decisions we just made?
As a final tool for reflection, ask the big picture questions:
• What student learning will be impacted by this meeting?
• What teacher practice will be impacted by this meeting?3. Ensure assessments are aligned with intended learnings.
Many teachers have been put in the position of making quick curricular decisions: what stays and what goes!
Consider these key components when you are leading your team to ensure that assessments remain aligned with the intended learnings:
Access to the revised curriculum. As you have made revisions to the curriculum, what are the current opportunities that students have to learn and do those learning experiences still align to intended learnings (standards/benchmarks/learning targets)?
What is the current “body of evidence” teachers are using to assess the degree to which students are making progress towards the intended learning? Is there a need to redesign current task(s)? Is there a need to design new tasks to get the best evidence of learning? Help your team think through how success criteria will be shared with students remotely. It is more important than ever that students understand what their learning looks like, feels like, and sounds like.
How are we providing students with feedback remotely? Work with your team to ensure that:
• Feedback assists the learner in understanding the learning goal.
• Feedback focuses on areas of genuine importance and worth.
• Learners know how to use the feedback to take next steps with their learning.
• Feedback is timely (as timely as possible for those providing asynchronous learning).
• The learner can tell specifically what he/she has done well and what he/she could do next time to improve.
• The feedback is in student-friendly language.
• The learner has the opportunity to act on the feedback, without penalty.
Consider tools such as Screencastify, Loom, Voicethread, and Flipgrid to help you deliver clear, specific, helpful, and timely feedback to students.
These suggestions are a very broad interpretation of “the three top things.” The bottom line is, do what leaders do: use efficient, purposeful tools and customize them to your context. Go forth! Bambi Betts is Director of the Principals Training Center (PTC).Kristen MacConnell is Director of the Teacher Training Center Programs with the PTC.
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