Over the course of my twenty-two years as an educator, I have had many people to thank for shaping me into the leader I am today. Over the course of a career, you have many people giving you advice on how to be effective. The best set of lessons I learned about leadership came from my mentor from New York, Dr. Norman Wechsler. His philosophy was simple: No one rises to low expectations. His job was to empower his school community to make decisions based on data and research. He did not micromanage; he supported his staff, even when he sometimes disagreed. You never entered his office with a problem without a viable solution. He trusted his staff and they, in turn, trusted him to lead. His staff got better because he taught us how to think and solve major issues by ensuring we had the proper data to support an idea. Because of his leadership, DeWitt Clinton High School went from a school ready to close to one of the nation’s most improved high schools.
Interestingly enough my career took me to Austin, Texas and to a school in a very similar situation. David Crockett High School had just been labeled an Academically Unacceptable campus for the second time in three years. When I arrived, the campus was at a crossroads. There was great talent on the campus, but very few systems that supported teaching and learning. It was apparent that staff members had issues they wanted to solve, but did not feel empowered to implement plans to solve them. One teacher with thirty years’ experience told me she never was asked for her opinion.
I began my tenure at Crockett by asking staff what I should look for when I walk into the classroom. From that initial meeting, we developed a new observation protocol and supported the staff with professional development that tightly aligned with our standards of teaching. Most teachers did not have positive experiences with data, pedagogy, or lesson planning. We gave them support without telling them what to do. This concept frustrated a staff that was used to taking orders from the top. However, the staff did come around and started to make the changes necessary for student success by learning how to collect, analyze and develop a plan of action without being told what to do every step of the way.
At the end of three months, the Crockett Community developed a Five-Year Plan. This plan identified specific and measurable goals in all facets of the building. The areas that we addressed were selected by the staff. We developed metrics to help us measure our success or identify areas of improvement. We were bold. We opened the first Twilight program, moved the campus to Standards-Based Grading, expanded AVID to all freshmen, created an early warning system to identify students who were in need of academic and social assistance. Each month, Crockett began to have more and more successful moments, which we celebrated. The community recognitions went a long way to improve the climate, culture and moral...