“You’ve a sharp group” - Robert Garmston, Co-Developer of Adaptive Schools (just one among his hundreds of accolades)
Principal. Director. MYP Coordinator. Every school has its “official” leadership structure, usually delineated quite clearly in the organizational chart. But somewhere, deep in the fabric of the school, we always find a ready crew, people who just get things done. When they identify a problem, they roll up their sleeves and start fixing things. They help colleagues put new strategies in place, pitch in when someone is absent, always volunteer when it’s time to review a policy or a curriculum.
They do all that for the good of the students. And what do schools do for them? What should be our role?
I believe in the importance of teacher leaders, and of mentoring, so I answered this question, in part, by offering a Teacher Leadership course at the International School of Kazan. I designed and led the course to simultaneously provide support for these leaders in adding strategies to their leadership toolkits, and to say “thank you” to those who, with or without official titles, are actively making our school a better place.
The first cohort included ten participants, all volunteers who responded to an open invitation. Teacher-leaders are whoever they say they are, so it seemed best to let people self-select based on their interest. The biggest challenge wasn’t finding participants, it was finding time. If you imagine the sort of people I described above, always involved and looking for ways to contribute, you’ll easily also imagine the jigsaw puzzle that is their time commitments. We ended up running the course outside of “normal” working hours, and you’d be right if you guessed that none of the participants even hesitated at three months of extended hours. Classic teacher-leader trait.
Our course structure included several elements:
- Connections to practice
- Development of a “Personal Initiative”
- Guest speakers
Sessions were lively, or as lively as possible in a Zoom setting. We used chats and breakout rooms to ensure that everyone was participating and contributing, which also ensured there was ample time to process new, complex information. There was plenty to talk about, as we delved into questions about “why we do” every time we looked at “what we do;” crucial understandings for anyone trying to find which tool to use next.
Right after the course finished, participants were asked for feedback, and guest speakers ranked very highly in their memories. Brave volunteers from across the globe and the leadership spectrum (school directors, a Senior Search Associate, active teacher leaders, a leadership coach), these kind souls offered up front-line wisdom and insight into the reality of being a leader in an international school. Robert Garmston was the hands-down favorite, after he hijacked the better part of 45 minutes to explore “be prepared, but don’t be attached to your preparation” when participants were looking at the use of protocols in team facilitation.
Six months later, reflecting on how life has changed, participants are pointing to their new tools and mindsets, quick to tell me how they are working to accomplish change. Cassidi Flowers says she took away “the idea that leadership works best with the creation of capable teams with clear goals and expectations. I’m now a teacher coach with a team of three teachers, three assistants, and three nannies. While the dynamic has its challenges, the skills learned in the leadership course have helped me to connect with the team members, assign roles, give direction, and build relationships.” Richard Jaberzadeh, newly an Innovation Coach, felt “It was empowering to learn about the dynamics of change and the types of resistance we might face along the implementation curve. The realization that this is normal and perhaps even necessary to action long lasting change was a real ah-ha moment.” Regina Shakirzyanova says the course “encouraged me to take the first step in offering my professional help to other teaching assistants to make sure we act consistently across the whole school and in case they face a problem we try to solve it together.”
These changes have not gone unnoticed around the school. I reached out to fellow members of our Senior Leadership Team, and they readily named multiple examples of course participants who have taken on new challenges and demonstrated new skills. I don’t dare name some participants while leaving others out, but I hope that everyone knows how appreciated they are. Some of the key words used to describe course graduates are initiative, confidence, ownership, collaboration, sharing, and mentoring others. What a reward! ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Diana is the Academic Director at the International School of Kazan, in Russia.
School’s website: https://iskazan.com/