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Learning is everyone's job!

The Alabama Best Practices Center (ABPC) is a place where educators can turn for assistance, inspiration and information about teaching and student achievement.

Our purpose is to help teachers and administrators develop the competence, commitment, and courage to do whatever it takes to improve student learning.

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Principal Aimee Rainey Reflects on "The True Measure of Leadership"
July 16, 2014
I first met Aimee Rainey when she was assistant principal and then principal at Calcedeaver Elementary, a wonderful and often-recognized rural school in northwestern Mobile County.

A few years ago, Aimee and her family moved from "Lower Alabama (aka LA)" to North Alabama and the city of Florence, situated on the beautiful Tennessee River, to assume the principalship of another award-winning school, Florence Middle.

In both schools, Aimee has worked passionately and diligently to hone her leadership skills – and to develop and distribute leadership among her teachers and staff. This article, written for NASSP's Principal Leadership magazine (Jan 2014), offers some of her insights and lessons learned and is shared here with her permission.
– Cathy Gassenheimer

The True Measure of Leadership

By Aimee Rainey

Coming from a family of educators, I was firmly against pursuing a career in education. I have always had a heart for service, however, and others have commented on my leadership skills from a very early age, so I obtained a degree in speech and hearing sciences with the desire to work in a rehabilitation setting. But like most eager, young graduates, I took the first available job after graduation and became a public school speech pathologist.

I am sure my grandparents, aunts, and uncles who had lifelong careers as educators were quietly waiting and watching me fall in love with education, the field of work I so adamantly felt was not for me. It took no more than two weeks for me to realize that I was born to be an educator.

I spent five years serving 2-to-21-year-old students who had multiple disabilities and unique personalities. I worked in different schools under school leaders who practiced dissimilar leadership styles. During this time, I served on a school accreditation team and a grant-writing committee and periodically fulfilled the duties of the special education coordinator. Those opportunities taught me important lessons about special education law, budgets and documentation for federal programs, families in crisis, and time management. Those challenging and demanding lessons were preparing me to become a leader.Read More
Why Do Organizations Undermine Their Own Success?
July 9, 2014
by Cathy Gassenheimer

Why do organizations and individuals often work at cross-purposes that undermine progress and success? That is the guiding question of Chris Argyris’ 2010 book, Organizational Traps: Leadership, Culture, Organizational Design (Oxford University Press).
In this book, Argyris, who developed the “Ladder of Inferences” that explains how we often make decisions based on filtered data that may skew our judgment, describes two theories of action: Model 1, Defensive Reasoning; and Model II, Productive Reasoning.
He contends that we most often use Model I when facing threatening situations or in cases where we are worried about being embarrassed. Those using Model I, Defensive Reasoning, work to:
1. Be in unilateral control;
2. Win, don't lose;
3. Suppress negative feelings; and
4. Behave rationally
Argyris’ preferred theory of action is Model II, Productive Reasoning, where individuals:
1. Seek valid (testable) information
2. Create informed choice; and
3. Monitor vigilantly to detect and correct error (p.189, Kindle edition)
“As individuals become skillful at using Model II," he says,  "they will also become skillful at using productive reasoning. Productive reasoning can be used to make personal reasoning transparent in order for claims to be tested robustly. Model II governing values can lead to openness, transparency, and trust.” (p. 190, Kindle edition)
Obviously, the Productive Reasoning model, while preferred, rarely comes into play because of human beings’ general nature. In fact, Argyris contends that our behavior is “self-fueling: or self-reinforcing in that the actions reinforce the defenses that caused the problems in the first place.” (p. 22, Kindle version).

As a result, we often create “traps” when we strive to use Model II reasoning, but our actions are more aligned with Model I.Read More
My New Favorite Book Closing the Teaching Gap: Coaching for Instructional Leaders
July 2, 2014
by Cathy Gassenheimer
This has been a summer of discoveries for me. For the second time in the past few weeks, I've found a book on my bookshelf that I hadn’t read and forgot that I had.
Thanks to our North Alabama Instructional Partners Network, Closing the Teaching Gap: Coaching for Instructional Leaders by Donald Bartalo, was brought to my attention. When I went online to order the book, the cover looked familiar. And, sure enough, it was on my bookshelf, just waiting to be explored.
Those who know ABPC's history won't be surprised that the title resonated with me. That the foreword was written by Grant Wiggins was another clue. And when I read the preface, I knew it was about to become one of my “new favorite books.”
Bartalo lays out his theory of action in the opening pages.
▶ Students need to not only understand what they are learning, but understand why it is important, how it relates to other learnings, and how to apply it.
▶ Teachers need to “understand how students learn best and can translate that understanding into generating better learning opportunities for students.” (p. xiii).
▶ To help teachers do that, instructional leaders must understand what works, know how to help teachers improve their practice and have the capacity, when needed, to turn their understanding into action.
Bartalo is not limiting the definition of "instructional leader" to those in traditional administrator positions. His vision encompasses the work of instructional partners and coaches. He also includes parents and school board members in the equation and emphasizes that they need to deeply understand their roles.Read More
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