Jamelie K. Johns
Nolan Elementary School
Signal Mountain, Tennessee
1) Building a Culture that Balances Relationships and Academics. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a statement often heard in leadership, but not always one that is applied with clarity. When a new administrator enters an established school, it is challenging to understand the current culture of the school and work your own vision and ideas to initiate changes. According to Todd Whitaker, “Though often invisible to the naked eye, a school’s culture influences everything that takes place under its roof.” When I came to Nolan three years ago, I was charged by the assistant superintendent to move the academics and ensure the students who are already high achieving grow. I came in with ideas for how to make that happen and began to implement them with good intentions to make a difference for teachers and students.
While some of these initiatives were well-received by some people, I was mostly met with resistance and frustration. I did not understand why this was happening. After receiving feedback from teachers, taking time to listen, and reflecting on my practice, I learned some hard lessons on why culture eats strategy for breakfast. The lessons I learned shifted my perspective on school culture and gave me a new understanding of the importance of building relationships with teachers. The staff is very proud of the school and the work that they do every day. The school is a happy place where families love to send their children to learn and teachers love kids. They needed to see that I too was proud of the school and cared about the people before any instructional leadership actions could be taken. They needed to see my heart for children and why I do the work that I do.
I worked hard to build relationships with students and teachers. I spent time in classrooms, had conversations with them, and gave out positive notes of encouragement. I was able to have academic conversations with teachers and goal setting sessions with students through the relationships that were built. By better understanding the culture that was already strongly established in the school, I was able to find ways to build relationships and also focus on academics. Finding this balance was important as it was imperative to move the learning forward. Dr. Joe Murphy shares about the importance of pastoral care and academic press in that a leader must always have one eye I 00% of the time on each. I feel that this is a best practice for school leaders to ensure a successful school climate and culture as well as to ensure a successful learning environment where all children succeed.
2) Supporting Every Teacher and Every Student to Succeed. I am passionate about every child succeeding in school. I want to see them grow and reach their potential each year. I feel strongly that using formal and informal data to inform instruction is a way to ensure every child succeeds. It is important for schools to have systems in place to collect and analyze data. Our district offers our students quarterly benchmark assessments which are aligned to the state standards. There are several reports that are provided for teachers and it is difficult to process all the information. It is imperative that if we are going to give an assessment, that the teachers know how to best use the data to make instructional decisions.
After the benchmark assessment, I sit down with grade level teams to talk with them about the data. We discuss trends in teacher, grade level, and student data. Typically teachers jump to areas of weakness when looking at data. While this is important, it is also important that the teachers notice what is going well so they can identify practices they want to continue or share with colleagues to help them improve in their classrooms. When we think about the students as “our students” and not “my students”, all the students win.
I also help teachers look at the data with curiosity. It is important that they generate statements that share what they notice in the data and a wondering that comes to mind for them to consider. By being curious about the data, I am helping teachers to reflect on how they can adjust their instruction or the types of tasks they are asking students to complete in their daily lessons.
Teachers reflect on individual student learning and determine appropriate next steps for individuals, small groups, and the whole class. They analyze the standards to determine which ones may need reteaching or enrichment and make an instructional plan. The collaboration among teachers has strengthened as they celebrate and learn from each other, but also in how students are shared and switched around for small group instruction to ensure that each student meets potential.
On benchmark 1, our 3-5 literacy score for the percent of students considered on track or mastering content was 64.3% and benchmark 2, it increased to 73.1 %. Our goal for the end of the year is 74.3% so we are on our way to possibly exceeding it. On benchmark 1, our grades 3-5 math scores for the percent of students considered on track or mastering content was 72.4% and on benchmark 2 it increased to 76.8%. Our end of year goal is 87.5% so we continue to work to reach this goal. I am confident that our teams of teachers are continuing to use the data to inform their instruction and we will see more growth by the third quarter benchmark. They see value in using the data, reflecting on progress, and making sure every child succeeds.