During the past school year, we've written several times about the Alabama Instructional Partners Pilot Program, initiated by the Alabama State Department of Education with professional development support from the Alabama Best Practices Center. The essential goal of the project, which will expand this fall, is to prepare teacher leaders for roles as school-based "instructional partners" who facilitate transformative professional learning among their peers.
We've invited participants in the first-year pilot to write about how the experience impacted their own professional growth. Our latest reflection comes from Jeanne Welt, Assistant Principal for Instruction at Bob Jones High School in the Madison (AL) City Schools, where she was the instructional coach for two years before stepping into her combined AP/IP role.
by Jeanne Welt
"As an administrator, Jeanne Welt 'gets' teachers."
What an affirmation of my growth in the area of dialogue and treatment of teachers as partners. This comment from a very seasoned teacher who has “questioned and fought” every change confirms that my efforts to grow professionally have been channeled in the right direction.
She will never know how her resistance fueled my own growth and determination to break the typical view and role of an administrator. I began this journey several years ago as the Instructional Partner in my high school. Last summer I became the Assistant Principal of Instruction, and I wore both professional "hats" during the 2011-12 school year.
What an advantage this dual responsibility was for me. Much of my work was the same as it had been during my IP days. I didn’t want my new title to change the relationships and trust I had worked so hard to establish the previous two years before moving into my new role. As a very “green” instructional partner three years ago, I instinctively knew I had to build relationships and trust with teachers, particularly since there was a lot of animosity with the previous person. As I sought resources, I stumbled on Jim Knight’s book Instructional Coaching, which provided a direction for my work when I did not know where to begin. (Later, when I joined the state Instructional Partners pilot project in the fall of 2011, there were Jim Knight's important ideas again -- being shared by ABPC among all my IP colleagues, in a year of powerful professional learning.)
As I became more effective in the area of dialogue with teachers, relationships and trust emerged. I took a personal and professional interest in each teacher. Building that relationship was vital in helping peel back the many defensive or resistant layers teachers had built, in large part because of the traditional outlook that in high school “we are all about covering the content.”
Learning to listen
Dialogue has been the foundational piece of my work with teachers and the greatest growth area for me. I have learned how to be an attentive listener. By nature, I am impatient and want change to happen yesterday. What I have learned in my growth journey is that for change to occur and be owned by teachers, they have to be a valued and respected partner in the dialogue.
The partnership chapter in Jim Knight's latest book Unmistakable Impact (which has been a key focus in our Instructional Partner pilot professional development with ABPC this year) has been my go-to guide. As I've engaged with teachers in instructional meetings, impromptu conversations, and feedback sessions following observations, I've approached my work with the servitude attitude, asking What can I learn from teachers today?
My humility has broken down some walls, and teachers feel their teaching practice is valued and worth sharing with their colleagues. I've learned how to ask the “right” questions to not only elicit teacher input but to encourage reflection about their work. This approach has opened many growth opportunities, both for the teachers and for their instructional partner and assistant principal.
We need to be humble co-learners
One teacher, Kendra, who is moving to another school, wrote in a farewell note that “You always offered me great teaching advice and had constructive feedback to give me after a classroom visit.” That simple and direct statement is a true affirmation to me that I am a stronger professional colleague today. Presenting myself as a respectful co-learner and thinking partner has built the relationship and trust that is so vital for “working on the work.”
The greatest reward, though, comes from the insights I've gained about myself. We should be humble about this work -- there is so much to know and so much we not only give but gain from working with other teachers around practice. I am confident I will continue to strive to be the instructional partner that Jane described in a note at the end of the year:
Thank you for being so kind, patient, ALWAYS supportive, and available. If I ever had a question, I knew I could always go to you for help/advice. Thank you for always believing in me and being a wonderful cheerleader/ advocate/ coach for us teachers.