Education Leadership Strategies, Mindsets and Tools for Back to School

Community, Leadership

Tiffany Della Vedova

So you bought a bunch of devices to launch your 21st century learning journey this school year…now what? Visionary school leaders around the world have taken the steps over the months leading up to and through summer to put into place a plan for blended learning success. Having worked with several such schools this year, I have witnessed the enthusiasm, foresight, and effort on behalf of school leaders. The main work of the summer involved network preparation, LMS implementation, Google Apps or Office 365 setup, device readiness, digital curriculum selection, and (thankfully) a significant amount of teacher training for many schools.

While this foundational work is essential, it is insufficient on its own. As leaders, we must work to adapt our leadership mindset and tools to fit the new environment we have helped to establish. When I had the good fortune to spend time with school leaders this summer in preparation for the coming school year, we discussed the following leadership strategies which will help foster a culture of responsibility and support for teachers, students, and parents.

Embrace a Fail-Forward Mentality

At the top of this list is something easier said than done. As leaders, we are on the receiving end of complaints from parents whose children may have misused the new app or tool in the wrong way or from students hurt by a wayward online interaction with peers. It is tempting to put up tight restrictions around application use so as to avoid any situations like this. However, this approach will counteract the tinkering mindset teachers we must nurture in teachers as they build their blended learning repertoire. If teachers feel under-appreciated or criticized for trying new approaches, they will revert to the safe practices of yesterday.

Build Partnerships with Parents

It is natural for parents to feel unsettled about a shift in the learning environment, even if they support the vision and rationale. To help parents feel supported, look for opportunities to discuss the shared goal of guided exploration of the digital world and the benefit of having children make mistakes within the school-supported environment. If parents are aware of what collaboration and discussion applications are in use, and the benefit of correcting mishaps while adults have eyes on these spaces, they will feel more comfortable. Inviting parents in for learning events, especially those where their children teach them about their favorite digital apps and tools, can be a great way to build parent partnerships.

Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning is a resource for guide parents and educators for creating and advocating for powerful, student-centered learning experiences for students.

Class & Home Contracts 

A class contract created by teachers and students to set forth the agreed upon responsibilities and behaviors will help to establish the ground rules for responsible use. With tools like GAFE, students can collaborate across classes through their grade levels or even beyond in the creation of such an oath. Taking this a step further to help families collaborate with their children in the creation of a techie family code can further augment parent partnerships by providing parents with a tool to help foster digital responsibility at home.Several next-gen learning platforms now include robust social elements are changing the game when it comes to educator, EdLeader, student and parent communication.

Celebrate Early & Often

At the beginning of the year, look for opportunities to celebrate with teachers making strides in their digital classrooms. Encourage sharing of new practices at faculty meetings where teachers can be authentically recognized for their efforts. It is important to celebrate both the successes and the fail-forward moments. Years ago, I met a school leader who celebrated the biggest failed lesson of each month by awarding the teacher with a golden plunger. The golden plunger was the most coveted prize as a recognition of innovative and iterative practices.

Embed & Personalize Teacher PD

 Too often teachers are firehosed with information in August and then are left thirsting for knowledge throughout the year. This approach is ineffective, but there have been few other options until recently. In my work with schools this summer, I have helped to introduce teachers to the Redbird Professional Learning platform. Dedicated to building this tool with teachers and leaders in mind, Redbird engaged me as a thought partner in its design. What came out of the partnership with Stanford University and Redbird is what I believe will become the new standard for professional development, allowing teachers to collaborate and learn throughout the year. Whether we use a tool such as this one or another approach to embed PD, it is important that we provide a way through which teachers can back their iterative practices with knowledge.

Educators and EdLeaders deserve programs that prepare and develop school and district leaders who will create and sustain deeper learning environments. This was the focus of Preparing Leaders for Deeper Learning that explored the need for deeper, blended, competency-based learning environments for PD.

When you talk with amazing teachers about their practice, a unifying thread is their commitment to encouraging and inspiring students. This is true of exemplar leaders in their relationship with teachers too. Beyond curriculum and devices, the ongoing teacher support and modeling of flexibility will powerfully transform a culture. Having set our GPS to 21st century learning, we must pack our bags with 21st century leadership tools as we embark on this year’s learning adventure.

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Tiffany Della Vedova is Head of Upper School at The Mandell School. Follow Tiffany on Twitter, @TeachOnTheEdge.

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