Leadership is difficult in good times. In times of crisis, this difficulty grows exponentially. This notion has become even more clear through my work supporting a Chief-level leader through the restructuring of a network of schools. This leader’s plate was full before the COVID crisis hit, and their responsibility and leadership scope has essentially doubled as a result of COVID: becoming responsible for orchestrating the network’s response to the abrupt closure of schools, and most significantly designing and implementing virtual instruction. Daily they are responding to questions and concerns from families, teachers, staff, and principals, and are looked to by staff to both assuage fears and set a concrete vision and plan for next steps.
My client reflected on having to spend all of their time being “on.” Conference call after call, zoom meeting after meeting, this leader has to be the one with all the answers, or the plan to find the answers. Staff call them for advice and support, or to complain about the way other team members are responding. And my client has to be there to listen, console and plan. All day, every day.
Yes, great leaders provide security and vision to their teams to manage through crises, but fulfilling that role is incredibly draining. Last week, my client and I reflected on how nice it is for them to have a chance to “take off the cape” during our check-ins: to not have to have all the answers, to be able to complain about how difficult all of this is, and to express disappointment, fear and anger honestly. I was honored that my client saw our check-in as the time for them to take that guard down and to be able to react to and reflect on how the work was weighing on them. It also provided an opportunity for us to brainstorm ways that we can handle the burden of leadership to meet the needs of staff without burning out.
I also saw this as a reflection of what we at Hendy pride ourselves on: walking arm-in-arm with our clients as they design solutions and create programs to better serve teachers and kids. Sometimes that relationship means gently pushing our clients to do something differently; other times it means accelerating full speed ahead on executing a plan. In these crazy times, it has sometimes meant simply providing a space for our clients to “take off their capes”, to reflect honestly about the difficulties of being a leader in crisis, and to know that leading others requires us to take care of ourselves.
We are all adjusting. For some, it’s a shift to full-time work from home; for others it’s becoming first-time teachers helping their children stay on track while out of school, whether it be modeling the concept of multiplication with blocks or explaining how the ghost in Hamlet provides examples of foreshadowing; others are essential workers adjusting to added spotlight and stress during the COVID crisis.
And then, there are those who are sick themselves. For almost three weeks in March, this was me. It started with a couple days feeling a bit more tired than usual, but soon turned into a high fever, full body aches, exhaustion, ongoing chills and night sweats. Once the fever broke after four days, I remained exhausted and developed chest tightness and a persistent, dry cough. Around day 13, after watching four seasons of The Sopranos, two seasons of The Great British Baking Show, and of course, Tiger King, I started to feel more like myself, but the cough lingered. I inched back to work, having been completely detached from my computer, let alone clients, the entire time. Finally, at three weeks, I had no symptoms, was back to work fully and celebrated, feeling truly thankful that I never had breathing difficulty or required hospitalization.
I share these less than fun symptoms for the sole reason of letting others know that they are not alone. The virus is rough–my case was “mild”–and takes a long time to clear; but don’t lose faith on day 7 and of course, keep in touch with your doctor regularly to plan your care.
Reflecting on my experience produced a few cliche-heavy reminders for me, that may be helpful to consider if you are ill or caring for a sick loved-one.
- Put your oxygen mask on first. I was completely wiped out and felt physically terrible and emotionally defeated. I hate not feeling productive, am terrible at asking for help, and miserable being dependent on others; but my reality required I not only stop working, managing meals, and walking the dog, but prioritize recovering above all else and accept that it was 100% okay to do so. I had to tell myself, “I will be better for it and my work will be better for it”.
- Communicate. When sick, we often rely on the help of loved-ones around us. Remember: they can’t read your mind. You have to communicate your feelings and needs, and they have to ask a lot of questions to care for you. Be direct, but kind, remember that everyone is stressed and living in uncertainty. Worry shows itself in lots of ways, so give everyone in your life a bit of grace. Be honest with people about the type and frequency of communication. If you want a text message from your 5 best friends each day, let them know how much it means when they check in. If you don’t want to have your phone buzzing all night, let the frequent callers in your life know the schedule you’re trying to keep and when you plan to next reach out.
- Have a plan. Dealing with any illness is stressful, but COVID-19 in particular is new with little scientific study and a tendency to change in intensity quite quickly. I recommend having a plan in place for any potential escalation of symptoms. Specifically, know what hospital/clinic you will go to and how, list who you will contact, plan for any child or pet-care implications, and have already-packed overnight bags by the door.
- Go slow to go fast. Once I started to feel well, I wanted life to immediately return to normal; I longed for the sense of accomplishment from completing a task, a mid-day bike-ride through Prospect Park, a nice dinner with a glass of red wine. I had these dreams, while simultaneously barely able to make it through the day without a 3 hour nap. To those of you sick or recovering, go slow and be kind to yourself. No, things will not be “normal” for a while, but the more you honor your physical and emotional needs now, the sooner you’ll be back to feeling like yourself.
We’re thrilled to announce that Jeremy Abarno, former Chief Talent Officer of DREAM Charter Schools in NYC, joined the Hendy team in October 2019. Jeremy will specialize in school leader coaching and development, network leader coaching (especially talent and academics), curriculum development and training, and comprehensive talent strategy and implementation. Jeremy is the smart, thoughtful person you want to help you solve problems and we are so happy he’s bringing his many talents to support our partner organizations and to continue to make our Hendy team stronger.
Jeremy started as a teacher in East Harlem in 2000 and has dedicated his career to the children of New York City. He served as the Principal at PAVE Academy public charter school. Jeremy was the Managing Director of Mathematics and later Talent at Ascend Public Charter Schools in Brooklyn, a network of nine schools serving more than 4,000 students in central Brooklyn. Before joining Hendy Avenue, Jeremy was the Chief Talent Officer of DREAM in East Harlem. In this role, Jeremy led the development of DREAM’s overall talent strategy including recruitment, professional development, workforce planning and human resources for DREAM’s schools, afterschool and community programs. Jeremy holds a Master’s in Special Education from City College and a School Building Leader license from Baruch. He is a graduate of New York University in elementary education. Jeremy lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children.
Curious to learn more about Hendy Avenue Consulting? Our very own Jessica Wilson sat down with the host of EdPOP to talk about our mission, recent projects and how talent strategy can make the difference for kids across the country.
In our previous two posts (here and here), Sarah and Grant shared reflections on the past year and projects they are looking forward to in the coming months. To bring us home, Jessica shares lessons learned on working through complexity and opportunities to lead with appreciation.
What I learned: I have spent most of my career in education supporting and working in large bureaucracies, namely large urban districts and state education agencies. Just prior to joining Hendy Avenue I was in senior leadership in one of the largest school districts in Ohio. Each of the organizations I’ve worked with in the past have faced challenges, and I tended to chalk those up to organizational complexity, and the difficulty that comes with arriving at solutions when you must invest a large number of people and perspectives in the strategies. After spending my first year with Hendy working with diverse organizations and districts, I came to appreciate that the challenges I faced in past contexts are not so different from those faced by clients of all sizes. I’ve learned that it’s often not only the scale and bureaucracy that causes the challenges we face in K-12 education, and that we can learn a lot from organizations of different sizes and types in finding solutions. As we partner with our clients this year, we are excited to continue to bring lessons learned from all shapes and sizes of districts, states, schools and networks to arrive at solutions to problems.
What I’m excited about: I am so happy to get to continue to partner with Independence Mission Schools in Philadelphia. Having attended Catholic schools as a child, I have a great appreciation and admiration for the work IMS is doing for some of Philadelphia’s most deserving students. We learned a lot from IMS’ leaders and teachers as we supported them last fall to implement their new instructional framework, and to modify that framework to fit their Catholic culture. Now, I’m excited to continue to support IMS leaders as they deeply invest in teachers through teacher leadership. This project has been a welcome opportunity to explore how others are solving a problem, learn more about the context, strengths and opportunities in IMS schools, and devise a program that makes a difference for teachers, and students, across the network.
In our last post, Looking Back, Looking Ahead: Lessons Learned and What’s to Come in 2018-19, our founder Sarah shared insights on the difficulty of leading change and the excitement around re-engaging with one of our first partners.
This week, we hear from Grant:
What I learned: Historian and philosopher Will Durant said, “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Durant’s much-quoted line rings true in most endeavors, especially in efforts to drive change. Over the past year, we’ve seen the power of habitual communication–to teachers, school leaders, regional administrators–in sharing consistent messages, building shared understanding and demonstrating competence. Nothing derails stakeholder buy-in more than mixed messages or a lack of information! Habitual communication requires consistent content, format, and tone through a single channel at a regular, expected frequency. In Houston, we’ve supported KIPP in the development of a weekly message to School Leaders around implementation of Teacher Pathways. Each Friday, leaders know they will receive updates, shout outs, resources, and reminders to guide the week ahead. In Delaware, we’ve launched a monthly newsletter for district leaders on DPAS_II, the state’s teacher evaluation system, with a consistent agenda including deadlines and professional development opportunities. These habitual communications do more than provide information, they demonstrate competence and care for colleagues and trust between stakeholders. As you think about the programs you’re leading, consider how you can habitualize communication as a repeatedly do.
What I’m excited about: In 2014, KIPP Texas – Austin began a comprehensive effort to reshape teacher effectiveness and retention through the development of a Teacher Career Pathway. Knowing that great teachers drive student achievement, Austin’s Teacher Career Pathway develops, recognizes and rewards excellent educators so they will get better and stay longer. This fall, the first cohort of Distinguished Teachers will be announced; a group of accomplished educators who have demonstrated consistent gap-closing results for kids, impeccable teaching practice and exemplary professional contributions to the school community. We cannot wait to celebrate these remarkable educators!
As consultants, our role is to guide our partners to make informed decisions and to successfully meet their goals. We also prioritize building the knowledge and skills of our partners and they tell us that they learn a lot from working alongside us. In turn, we learn so much every day from the incredibly smart and diverse partners we have the good fortune to work with!
As we reflect on the past and look ahead to the new school year, we are grateful for all that we have learned from our clients. In our next couple of blog posts, each Hendy team member will share something he or she has learned and something we’re excited about it. It’s going to be a great year!
To kick us off, read below from our founder, Sarah Rosskamm:
What I learned: Change is hard. Often times the solution is to prepare for change, engage stakeholders, continuously communicate the “why”, work with influencers, plan for challenges and ultimately to just keep going even when it gets tough. There are times, however, when the solution is to pause, reflect and change course. In working with one of our partner charter networks this year, we learned that sometimes the most courageous and best answer is to stop doing something. In this case, our partner was eager to build a teacher career pathway. They took many important steps to get there, had buy-in from leaders and momentum from teachers believing it was valuable. However, they also had budget changes, shifts in capacity and new demands of their attention. As a result, they smartly decided to pause. They stopped putting their attention into the pathway and instead narrowed the scope of their focus to implementing a highly effective evaluation and development structure that would help their teachers to grow and enable them to target their professional learning activities. They focused on laying a foundation that would immediately benefit teachers through continued growth, and will ultimately allow them to move more quickly toward a pathway if and when they choose to pick it up again. It wasn’t easy (for the network or for the Hendy team) to not complete our original shared goal, but it was the right thing to do for their teachers and students.
What I’m excited about: Hendy Avenue’s very first consulting project was supporting the Delaware Department of Education as they considered revisions to their teacher evaluation rubric. After considering several rubric options based on the best of the available rubrics at the time, the Delaware team, similar to the team described above, decided to pause and learn more before making changes to a statewide tool. So, we shifted course and supported four charter schools in Wilmington to design and implement an alternative evaluation system for their teachers that would utilize this new rubric. I worked closely with the leaders in those schools for several years and together we instituted an alternative system that is now used in a growing number of Delaware schools through their Alternative Evaluation system. I am so excited that five years later, after learning a great deal about the use of the current rubric and about the alternative system, Delaware leadership is eagerly partnering with teachers, leaders and other stakeholders to revise the rubric to ensure the tool is well-aligned to new standards and meets the needs of teachers across the state. I’m also thrilled the state has very wisely decided to prioritize involvement of teachers and leaders in the process and to take the time necessary to ensure it’s a positive and welcomed change for their well deserving teachers. And I’m even more excited that Hendy Avenue will be partners in engaging stakeholders, designing, piloting, revising and ultimately building a rubric that helps teachers and leaders be the very best they can be for their students.
In our first post on teacher leadership, we noted a few key ideas and benefits of extending the impact of teachers. Here, we break down three suggestions for launching a new teacher leadership initiative as well as criteria to measure success and common pitfalls to avoid.
How do you launch a successful teacher leadership program?
Our research and experience suggest three critical steps to starting a new approach to teacher leadership:
- Start with a goal in mind: Avoid launching a new program without a clearly defined, and important problem to solve. For example, if your district finds that teachers are not feeling valued in decision making, a teacher leadership program aimed at increasing teacher voice would be more appropriate than a peer coaching initiative.
- Identify the right “strand” of teacher leadership: Teacher leadership can be instructional (coaching, learning communities, etc.), associative (organizing, community building, etc.) or policy focused (advocacy, implementation feedback, etc.).
- Build a leader profile and plan for their development: Identify the specific knowledge, skills, and mindsets teacher leaders will need to be successful. Consider the personal or professional goals teacher leaders could be working towards and how they’ll be held accountable to meeting the expectations for their role.
Criteria for Success
Successful implementation of any initiative requires specific benchmarks in order to direct action, mobilize energy and inspire persistence. At the same time, setting goals is not enough. In addition to guidance, training and coaching, people need the capacity to act.
Here are four criteria that leaders can use to achieve success:
- Alignment: Ensure teacher leadership priorities are aligned with overall school priorities.
- Goals: Collaboratively set and track progress against clear, measurable goals for teacher leadership.
- Systems of Support: Identify a clear, cohesive system of support for teacher leaders to drive their professional growth and success.
- Schedules: Carefully plan and agree upon scheduling to guarantee teacher leaders have the time to succeed.
The work we do as educators is difficult. Leaders often find themselves constrained with limited budgets and capacity to drive change; while teachers often wish for another hour in the day to make that additional phone call home or photocopy for the next day.
In launching a teacher leadership program or opportunity, look for, and avoid the following common pitfalls:
- Temporary: Teachers notice when positions are tenuous. Avoid funding sources that may not persist long enough to influence recruitment and retention.
- Detached: Roles that prevent teacher-leaders from spending a portion of their time teaching students make it much harder for them to keep teaching skills fresh and stay connected to student needs.
- Low reach: Many teacher-leadership roles actually reduce the number of students for whom the best teachers are responsible. If fewer students benefit from the best teachers, fewer will make the learning gains these teachers induce.
- Short on time: Too many teacher-leader roles are heaped on top of teachers’ other responsibilities. Co-planning, modeling, co-teaching, coaching, and collaboratively adjusting instruction based on student data require more planning time.
- Low or no pay: Most teacher-leader roles are low- or no-pay roles; this sends the message that teacher leadership is expendable, rather than essential to schoolwide success.
- Low authority, low accountability: Teacher-leaders’ formal authority and evaluations rarely align with responsibility for wider student spans and a positive impact on peer and students success.
How has has teacher leadership made in impact in your school or career? What led to success? What should be avoided? Sound off in the comments!
- York-Barr, J. and Duke, K. “What do we know about teacher leadership”. Review of Educational Research. (2004)
- Karen Seashore Louis, Kenneth Leithwood, Kyla L. Wahlstrom, and Stephen E. Anderson, “Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning,” University of Minnesota (2010).
- Louis, Leithwood, Wahlstrom, and Anderson, “Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning”
- Leading Educators and the Aspen Institute, “Teacher Leadership that Works,” Aspen Institute (2014).
- C. Kirabo Jackson and Elias Bruegmann, “Teaching students and teaching each other: The importance of peer learning for teachers,” National Bureau of Economic Research No. 15202 (2009);
- Cory Koedel, “An empirical analysis of teacher spillover effects in secondary school,” Economics of Education Review, Vol. 28, 682–692 (2009);
- Kun Yuan, “A value-added study of teacher spillover effects across four core subjects in middle schools,” Education Policy Analysis Archives, Vol. 23, no 7 (2015).
Performance management, at its core, sets expectations. It puts a stake in the ground for what “good” looks and sounds like in the classroom and serves as the baseline of teacher observation rubrics. Effective performance management is more than diagnosing current performance; it supports teachers to articulate an actionable, clear trajectory toward excellence. Ultimately, a vision of good teaching and learning must be at the heart of any performance management system.
Common Pitfall: Framework Without Vision
Too often schools and districts launch a performance management system by creating or selecting a rubric without consideration of core instructional priorities. Enthusiasm and urgency, while helpful, can lead to less than ideal system design.
For example, simply adopting an existing framework because it is “proven” or “research-based” might not actually lead schools and teachers to excellence: what might be excellent teaching in one context might not be true in another setting. Creating a framework from scratch in a vacuum, separate from instructional priorities, isn’t likely to lead teachers to excellence either.
This doesn’t mean that adopting an existing framework is the wrong strategy, or that creating something new won’t get leaders and teachers where they need to be. It does mean, though, that this work must be grounded in the core realities of instruction necessary to move kids.
Ground Performance Management in a Vision for Excellent Instruction
Co-design and co-own by instructional leaders. Defining excellence for as complex a role as teaching requires a team of individuals, with different areas of expertise and focus. While very often, the development of teacher evaluation systems lives within talent/human resources, great systems strategically draw in additional stakeholders. For quality operations, a talent leader should drive and own the design and implementation of a performance management framework. At the same time, this work should be a shared priority between leaders of talent, academics and school management functions in a network or district. Instructional leaders working in schools daily must be the core authors and implementers of expectations for teachers.
Measure what matters. If teachers are held to expectations through a framework that aligns with core instructional priorities, schools are more likely to see improvement in the areas that matter most for students. If a solid instructional vision grounds all decision making, then curricular resources, training, and other supports will naturally stem from that vision. As teachers are supported to meet expectations via appropriate the resources, materials, and training, student learning will flourish.
Lead from your vision. Consider the following questions, and strategically engage others to ensure answers reflect the perspectives of a broad range of stakeholders:
- What are our prevailing beliefs within our system about students, and the role teachers play in their success?
- What do the instructional standards require from our students? And then, by extension, from our teachers?
- In classrooms where good teaching and learning is happening, what are teachers doing? What are students doing?
- How does this differ for different students? Different contexts?
- How do we ensure that the performance management system we design reflects our vision of excellent teaching?
- Who will own this work? How will we ensure that leaders from talent and instruction both continue to be involved?
Let us know what you think in the comments below!
As we look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with our families this week, the Hendy Avenue team is reflecting on the many blessings for which we are thankful. We are thankful for our family and friends. We are thankful for the opportunity to partner with wonderful organizations doing incredible work for children. We are thankful for clients who have become friends. We are thankful to work with our fabulous Hendy team members who make us think harder and laugh more.
We are also thankful for the many people in our lives who have helped us along the way. Today we give thanks for the teachers who have shaped our lives and highlight just a few of them.
Sarah: My favorite teacher was Mrs. Ayers, my elementary art teacher. She had an energy and passion for her subject that was contagious and I fell hard for creating art. She brought a talent out of me and made me feel truly special. I think the best teachers are able to connect with their students and bring out a curiosity and a confidence that translates to other parts of their lives. Thank you, Mrs. Ayers!
Jess: My favorite teacher was Mr. Hoffman, my high school English teacher. I was a math and science geek in high school, and never really valued literature. I thought that spending all of my time in the analytical world of experiments and functions would get me to my goals. Mr. Hoffman helped me to understand and appreciate the value of balance in academics and in life. We read the great novels in a way that helped me to build my critical thinking skills in a different way. Thank you, Mr. Hoffman!
Grant: I have to give a Thanksgiving shout out to my AP US History teacher, Mr. Corcoran. The one word that comes to mind when I think back to Mr. C’s class is rigor. Not only was the course demanding in terms of workload, but it was a intellectually exhausting and exhilarating experience, every day. You had to show up prepared, engage with your peers, argue your points, and justify your thinking. Nothing less than our best was accepted. Thank you Mr. Corcoran for pushing me to demand excellence of myself and forging how to think, write, and speak with integrity.