The Power of Empowering (Part I)

The importance of empowering individuals is critical in any organization if real change is to occur. Period. This universal concept is especially true in schools given the ever-changing landscape of education and the new initiatives (voluntary or involuntary) that continue to surface as a result. At DFHS, we continue to move forward with our mission of “IB for all” by exploring programs and approaches that allow us to provide all students with a comprehensive education that promotes international mindedness and 21st century skills. In doing so, we have been putting the necessary pieces in place to ensure that we are best prepared for authorization and eventually the full implementation of the IB Middle Years Program (MYP). This program will not only serve as a bridge to our well-established and highly successful IB Diploma Program, but will also complement many of the programs and initiatives that currently exist at our high school. This includes our 1:1 Chromebook initiative, the CCSS, our grade level teams, and all of the curriculum work (horizontal and vertical) that has been completed over the past several years.

In thinking about the organizations that lead successful change initiatives, the overwhelming factor that is always the “difference maker” is the degree to which people are empowered and the level of “buy-in” that exists. This concept has clear and obvious implications for schools particularly since teachers are the true change agents with regard to the adoption of any new innovation. At DFHS, we have created teacher leader positions (non-administrative) that are filled by individuals who are both instructional leaders and who are capable of leading the work so that it becomes “bottom-up” and organic as opposed to top-down and forced. Again, the key here is to empower others in order to allow change to occur.

So what are the desired qualities of a teacher (or instructional) leader and how can we create a staff full of them? The latter is the million dollar question, but it always starts with individuals who are open-minded, excited about new ideas, and current on the latest “conversations” in education by reading journals and research both within their respective discipline (ex. The English Journal–NCTE) and across the disciplines (ex. Educational Leadership–ASCD). Furthermore, it’s important to create a structure that both supports teacher inquiry and encourages teachers to “think like researchers.” Questions around desired student outcomes, current (and best) practice, and potential next steps should always be at the heart of all work and professional development.

This summer, our teacher leaders will meet to tackle some of these important questions and will work to set the instructional course for our school in the coming year. The group recently read “Planning Professional Learning” (Guskey, 2014) and will use that piece as a jumping off point for both identifying desired student outcomes and planning professional experiences for teachers that are rooted in the “desired results” (Wiggins and McTighe) that we have established for our school. The team will begin by planning the professional development for some of our 9th and 10th grade teachers who will come in for two days this August before ultimately determining how to best utilize our weekly “early dismissal” Wednesday meeting times for the upcoming year. This will include school-wide professional development, curriculum writing initiatives, departmental work, and much more.

At DFHS, the goal is for all teachers to personally develop the qualities and mindset of a teacher (or instructional) leader while providing a structure that allows for high levels of collaboration and empowerment. Our work next year will not only build off of our pre-existing initiatives, but will also remain in the hands of our teachers and staff where it belongs. When an organization allows for this level of ownership and empowerment, there isn’t anything that can’t be accomplished.

Stay tuned for more on this topic…

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