Cale R. Whicker
Beattie Elementary School
Fort Collins, Colorado
1) Knowledge is a powerful tool through which one can shape the educational environment. It can be used to positively impact outcomes for students when applied in the most effective ways. It is imperative for Instructional and Transformational leaders to understand the research-based practices in order to emphasize highly impactful outcomes for students. It is also the responsibility of the leader to collaboratively lead toward clearly articulated ends and outcomes as well as to team with stakeholders in the building to determine the necessary means needed to get there. This process of leading through best practices can be completed in three steps.
The first step in understanding the Mission and Vision, or where to lead the building, is to first use tools to understand where the building is currently performing in relation to the perspectives of its stakeholders. This should be accomplished by using agreed upon tools that provide feedback which is actionable. In our practice, we utilize a system readiness rubric from CDE, a stakeholder survey for parent feedback and previous performance feedback. Creating buy-in through collaborative leadership assists all stakeholders in committing to a shared goal. When time constraints or perspectives differ this commitment is of the utmost importance.
The second step of leading toward improved student achievement is to guide teachers to increase their efficacy, interdependence, consciousness, craftsmanship and flexibility. These traits are important because if teachers do not feel as though these internal traits exist, teachers will not be of the mindset that their teaching directly impacts student learning. To assist teachers in building and acquiring skills, it is the leader’s responsibility to create the four sources of these traits. The first source is safety. In our practice, we build safety by creating opportunities for teachers to have honest conversations, both vertically and departmentally. During these conversations we stress norms, acceptance and empowerment. The second source is mastery moments. Teachers build confidence when they can catch themselves engaged in a successful experience. In our practice this comes when teachers establish an ambitious goal and overcome obstacles during the process of attaining that goal. The third source is directly related to the second; modeling success. In our practice, teachers learn from others’ success through peer observation and coaching. The final source of these traits is feedback. Our teams, through administrative guidance, collectively focus on continuous improvement, commit to doing the research, take risks, share and learn through using feedback.
The last component of fostering an environment for growth is ongoing assessment and realignment of our efforts towards the ends. Too often in education, new fads and ideas come in and overtake the work and will of the group. It is the efforts of the leader to use the aforementioned tools to determine if the ends are still in sight. If they are, building leadership needs to make a concerted effort to keep external distractions from over taking that focus and momentum. If adjustments need to be made to assure progress, leaders must take action. For any adjustments being made toward achieving the ends ongoing, embedded and explicit professional development needs to be established.
Using these three stages helps support teachers and create outstanding outcomes for students.
2) Inclusion is both a best practice and passion of mine. My educational career has focused on meaningfully including students with disabilities and other minority groups. There are events in my life which have shaped my approach for using appropriate and effective best practice of inclusion.
I started my life literally growing up in a K-12 school in rural Alaska. From there I began learning best teaching practices by becoming a behavior technician for students with Autism during my years in high school and serving on the district school board in my senior year. I learned about direct, explicit instruction as well as the importance of teacher clarity, focused assessment and progress monitoring. At an early age, I was able to participate in strategic planning for increasing student growth and achievement.
The most current life event in helping to shape my viewpoint on inclusion was transitioning from Special Education administration to a building based Assistant Principal role. Though it was difficult to transition from a role which helped me advocate for students with disabilities, I truly believe systems in schools must build into the school structure. Embedded systems which service all students are the only systems that will have the longevity needed to remain amidst, staff turn-over and initiative changes. In taking this role, I am able to create systems which service all students by using engaging enrichments discussed on and as needed basis. All students at Bacon Elementary School are screened through our Multi-Tiered System of Supports; this includes all of our students, even those with Individual Education Plans.
The most impactful event in my educational career was serving as the facilitator and district representative of the Estes Park Special Education Advisory Committee. Though I have served on other SEACs since, my time on the Estes Park SEAC allowed me to make connections to families. It also afforded me the opportunity to demonstrate the positive impact which comes from partnering with families. Partnership between families, the school and other stakeholders can create amazing outcomes and strengthened bonds. Higher hopes and expectations of families correlates to higher expectations for students themselves, which creates great student academic and behavioral achievement.
I utilize lessons learned and knowledge gained from these three events in my life and apply them toward creating systematic structures for positive outcomes for all, engaging planning for student centered plans based on progress and fostering connections between families and the stakeholders in their lives.