Collaborative Leadership With Assistant Principals
June 2016, Volume 39, Issue 10
Successful collaboration between school administrators sets a positive tone and helps model communication practices that can be implemented schoolwide.
Principal JoVon Rogers and assistant principal Kristen Rudinski began working together three years ago when Rogers arrived at Gunston Elementary School in northern Virginia as a new principal. Since that time, the two have developed a highly collaborative leadership style. In an interview, Rogers and Rudinski shared their strategies for collaborating as a team and with teachers and staff to create a culture of communication throughout their school. Here is what they had to say.
1. Share the same core beliefs. Putting kids first is the central principle that drives our collaboration with each other, our teachers and staff, parents, and the students themselves. We each serve as the primary point person for certain grades and remain with those students throughout their time at our school, becoming well versed in their particular needs. This involves being an active participant in weekly Collaborative Learning Team meetings with the teachers from each grade to provide feedback and model expectations, as well as following up in the classroom to see this weekly planning in action.
We work closely with these teachers to promote and support our goal of responsive instruction (RI), including quarterly RI meetings that include discussion of every student. We support teacher development of RI plans and serve as resources of reinforcement for these students as needed throughout the school day. As administrators, we are not officially part of any individual responsive instruction plan, yet we consider ourselves unofficially part of all plans in the grades we represent. Our shared belief is that the first and last question of the day should be “What do the kids need?” We check in with each other regularly, both formally and informally, to share ideas, align our thinking and expectations, and ensure that our message is clear.
2. Prioritize teacher feedback. We understand and agree that teachers today are often asked to do the impossible. If something is not working as expected, our first step is to ask each other what we can do better to communicate our expectations and help a teacher in need. Collaboration should be a two-way street, particularly with teachers and staff.
As a new administrative team, we focused on building a culture of communication as a way to develop trust. A big part of this was establishing a specific shared plan of classroom observation and feedback. Our calendars are closely managed to include visits by each of us to every classroom a minimum of twice a month, with an emphasis on observing teachers in a same grade during a similar time period to compare strategies. We share our thoughts and discuss best practices for presenting feedback, and then each classroom visit is followed by a face-to-face conversation with that teacher prior to providing a written evaluation. Once our teachers became comfortable with regular observations and trusting of the collaborative environment, they became much more likely to come to us for feedback and help, creating a positive communication loop.
3. Emphasize that everyone should always be learning. We both feel strongly that everyone at our school should be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Collaboration and trust helps greatly in creating an environment where everyone can be open to learning and sharing as well as asking for help. We prioritize participation in all professional development opportunities offered to our staff to demonstrate the importance of continued learning and have the opportunity to collaborate with teachers in a learning environment. This collaboration also helps build that positive communication loop that allows us to better respond to and support our teachers.
Rogers and Rudinski add that it is important to “regularly norm ourselves to ensure we have the same expectations and are sending the same message.” This ensures that the leadership team is addressing the needs of students, providing valuable feedback and collaboration with teachers and staff, and creating a strong professional learning environment.
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