How do you balance all the stake holders, how do you find the core within, how do school leaders build deeper learning for students as the core of the school ‘narrative’?

Studying leadership and bringing clarity to a complex school business of building deeper learning so that students are creative and entreprenaurial minds prepared for the complexities of the future is a daunting task. I want to offer the our profession something that is useable, tangible and doable. Thank you to NSW Premiers PWC Educational Leadership Scholarship I have been able to follow my educational passions about leadership.

What Skills and Practices do these courageous leaders do?

Leaders foster deep conversations and a stong focus on critique and revising.
Leaders foster deep conversations and a stong focus on critique and revising.

Building a culture of Excellence through deeper learning.

One would think that travelling 3 continents (Indonesia, China and the U.S.)  I would have discovered all the answers and be able to succinctly write a clever little post every second day or so, noting all things, in a little check list of the “do’s and don’ts” of successful school leadership to build successful future creative young people. Simple? Not so. Excellence in thought takes time and many drafts.

As I have learnt and observed at High Tech High Schools in Point Loma and Chula Vista, that highly successful exhibitions of learning come from an ongoing process of critique, drafts and redrafts as explained through the study of Ron Berger

  and his explaination through ‘Austins Butterfly’.

Ron Berger talks about how critique and multiple drafts are key to our deeper learning and a high level of excellence in student work.

How leaders build this excellence in teaching and learning within their school to be a place where students are excited about coming to school, engaged and are truly experiencing deeper learning. This is the path I am researching and I will endeavour to be an action learning guinea pig with my wonderful school. There will be mistakes, however, the biggest mistake that I cant make is to NOT start the journey. We believe strongly in building the very best opportunity for our students.

High Tech High are leading the way through their focussed and relentless journey of ‘Deeper Learning’.

Projects of excellence, focus on social inclusion.
Projects of excellence, focus on social inclusion.

What do they do?, what do their leaders do?, their skills?, their practices?  

Creating the Narrative that is articulated clearly and with ‘Purpose, knowledge and Passion’. 

In listening to the “protectors” ( Larry Rosenstock and Rob Riordan) of the Core Mission of HTH schools, it is just this, a core ‘narrative’ (vision/mission) which is upheld in every decision that is made within the schools. It was reiterated that there needs to be strong leadership who ensures that the focus is on the right thing. i.e. the protector of the core mission of the school.

In the case of HTH the design principles sit as the thing that keeps the core connected. They are the sticky things that bind the everyday work. As a school leader, you need to ascertain what at the ‘sticky things’, name them and call them design principles. Its important that once the design principles have been decided upon, that the concept is not abbreviated (as opposed to being modified and growth is essential). Just keep making it better, keeping a close look, don’t crowd out your narrative. Short and sweet. A leader will ensure the community is aligned with the focus, and ensure that the community advocacy does deter from meeting the learning goals and there is not chance to deviate from the focus by going away from the mission, it is all the more important that the core ‘narrative’ is upheld. Sticking to the narrative, and by balancing all the stake holders and outside agencies. The ‘sticky things’ need to be the focus and that everyday practice is kept to the core ‘narrative’.

Example: HTH has embedded the Design Principles into everything they do and these are the ‘hooks’ in which the operation moves along. 1. http://www.hightechhigh.org/about/design-principles.php

Constant conversation about what is the schools goal.

Throughout my observations as a learner at the winter residency at HTH, there was a great sense of an aligned mission, a strong  focus on filtering learning through the teachers and the students own experiences which reiterated the design principles in so many ways. Equity was an essential part of the schools goal and was played out in practice through a deliberate reassessment of programs, a focus on common langauge and common core focus of evaluation about what was being said and the relationship to was being done in practice.

I heard the word “Projectopia” if that was the vision, then it certainly was being played out. I remember such words as the only way to shift culture is by “doing”, and this was explained through the concept, as a member of the staff, if you don’t want to be involved in a project, that’s ok, however, please don’t stop others from doing it. From this it was also explained that the ‘doing’ needs to be filtered through a teachers own experiences. Often asking the grass-roots questions. Why they chose teaching, hear their genuine voice and give ‘autonomy to their work’. The focus on changing the ‘fear’ factor of change was an important aspect of the conversation.

Teaching at High Tech High ‘a few little observations as I interpreted (only my observed view) ‘

  • All staff are on 1 year contracts. It is renewed each year. There is no tenure as such.
  • They have about 1600 who apply to teach each year at any of the HTH schools ( 12 in total), they take 10% of that into their selection process. Which is essentially, decided through a series of interviews, teaching and discussions with students, teachers, director and CEO.
  • Those who are let go are done as kindly and as caring as possible, it appears to be about fit to the philosophy of the “design Principles”.

personalization, adult world connection, and common intellectual mission, teacher as designer (changing to Teacher is co-designer).

  • It is flat executive, each school has a Director (Principal) and essentially a student services (I guess something like a DP), there are no department heads, and teachers are divided into teams, they teach in partners.
  • They employ no subs. The partner covers for their partner when absent.

This is just the beginning of my investigations and observations. Happy learning. I love it!

Finally for this post I will finish with two words MOOC ( is it a word?)…. Massive Open Online Course and Teaching And GSE (is it a word) teacher training and leadership.  Preparation at the Graduate School of Education at HTH School http://gse.hightechhigh.org/

And there is a MOOCs worth visiting that is running at the moment. Along with another on New school Creation at HTH.

Deeper Learning MOOC http://dlmooc.deeper-learning.org/

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