by Cathy Gassenheimer
Remember the movie If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium? Well, we weren’t exactly in Belgium, but we’ve traveled quite extensively over most of September without ever leaving Alabama! Here's the story of just two of those weeks.
We began in Birmingham on Sunday, September 13 with the Superintendent Leaders Network (SLN) retreat for new members. Superintendents from Butler County, Brewton City, Demopolis City, Enterprise City, Hartselle City, Jasper City, Midfield City, Oxford City, Piedmont City, Limestone County, Phenix City, Saraland, Tarrant City and Walker County joined us for two days of learning.
The retreat was designed to provide opportunities for superintendents to learn from each other as well as from research and best practice.
Oxford City Superintendent Jeff Goodwin, a long-term SLN member, reflected on his journey as superintendent, and in the ensuing discussion participating superintendents recognized that even though they serve districts of different size, location, and demographics, they share many of the same challenges.
One of the most meaningful experiences, participants said, was mapping their roles and responsibilities as the "lead learner" in their districts, using Kouzes and Posner’s Five Exemplary Practices from their bestselling book The Leadership Challenge, (5th Edition).
As their maps emerged, it became even clearer that though they manage different sized districts with different demographics, they have a lot in common as they set out to lead their learning communities along the path to excellence.
The venue then shifted to Children’s Harbor at Lake Martin for the first of three Instructional Partner Network (IPN) regional retreats this fall.
Principals and instructional partners (sometimes known as school-based instructional coaches) from schools in Alabaster City, Attalla City, Blount County, Jefferson County, Talladega County, Tarrant City, Vestavia Hills City and Walker County – from the Central Instructional Partners Network group – joined us for two days of learning.
Returning members greeted new schools from Vestavia Hills, and Jefferson and Walker Counties to discuss the challenges and opportunities associated with coaching and supporting professional colleagues.
The retreat began with tables creating a "Group Resume." Here are two examples:
We then discussed the five core concepts of an “Impact School,” where “every aspect of professional learning is designed to have an unmistakable, positive impact on teaching and hence, student learning” (Jim Knight, Unmistakable Impact, p. 6).
As we explored these concepts, using a mind-mapping routine, deep and powerful conversations emerged as table teams discussed the importance of: Humanity, Focus, Leverage, Simplicity, and Precision.
Next steps involved exploring each of the seven partnership principles. This year, instead of jigsawing the principles, we spent most of the learning time investigating each and every principle and connecting it to the work at schools and districts. Our protocols during this segment included the 4 A's; Sentence-Phrase-Word; Affinity Mapping; Say Something; Here's What, So What, Now What; and Card Swap.
The movement to develop instructional partnerships among teachers, coaches and principals continues to grow across Alabama. In fact, I think we can safely say that Alabama is becoming a national leader in this work.
After the Central Alabama IPN retreat, we had “boundary spanning” at the Wiregrass+ Instructional Partners Network, where schools from Madison City, Tuscaloosa County, Piedmont City, and Lee County joined Enterprise City, Dothan City, and Andalusia City for two days of learning, using our same 2015 IPN Retreat curriculum. Participants loved being with people from different parts of the state and want more!
The North Alabama Instructional Partners Network includes Boaz City, Florence City, Kilby Lab School (UNA), Huntsville City, Lawrence County, Madison County, Madison City, Muscle Shoals City, Russellville City, and Sheffield City.
Our North Alabama participants met at Camp McDowell and deepened their understanding of the core concepts of an impact school. These photos capture Simplicity and Humanity.
During each retreat, role-alike sessions were held so principals and instructional partners across the participating districts could discuss their specific roles and responsibilities. We often hear that these conversations are among the most valuable and "rare" experiences that these educators have outside of school.
On the day the North Alabama group joined their role-alike counterparts, the weather was so beautiful at Camp McDowell that the principals opted to meet outside!
Next month, we'll host meetings of the IPN South and IPN Southwest Groups. Meanwhile, the first meetings of our Powerful Conversations Networks have begun. It's hard but rewarding work, and we love interacting constantly with the school and classroom leaders who are advancing teaching and learning in Alabama's public schools.