Supportive. Empowering. Relationship builder.
Those were a few of the many words that the 24 instructional leadership teams (ILT) attending the first session of the new Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS) Leadership Academy shared with each other and then wrote on large sheets of paper when asked to describe mentors who impacted their lives.
Most of those traits, the attendees realized, easily matched the school division’s five core values of student-centered decision making, continuous learning, innovation, collaboration and respect.
The professional learning activity was one of the first ones of the day designed to spur discussion about the characteristics of leadership.
“In our work together today we are going to provide a forum for you to develop the knowledge, skills and dispositions of impactful leadership so that you can then create conditions within your ILT and within your school through which teacher practice and student outcomes can improve,” said Anna Surratt, professional learning specialist with the Office of Professional Growth and Innovation (PGI), which developed the new, year-long academy. She and PGI colleague Shelley Labiosa led the full-day professional learning activity June 26 and will lead upcoming sessions.
Next, teams dived into lively table activities and discussions centered on two important topics that impact effective ILTs: behaviors and values; and celebrations.
“As leaders yourselves, you embody and exhibit many of the characteristics of these behaviors and values and it’s important that we stop and reflect on which of these we bring to our team, our school and our students because we want to work from those as our strengths,” Surratt stated.
As for celebrations, Labiosa pointed out research shows it’s important to not just celebrate results, but milestones along the way as well. “When you’re talking about change, hard work and discomfort, it’s really important to celebrate. Those little celebrations are important to a team’s happiness.”
The morning’s last activity also emphasized that while results are important, there are many dimensions of success, including the process and the relationships that are built along the way.
To illustrate that fact, teams were asked to build a five-foot tower strong enough to sustain a slight breeze using only materials provided to them: two paper plates, one sheet of butcher paper, a roll of tape, two Styrofoam cups, four index cards and a straw.
The only rules were that the team needed to work collaboratively, use all members, define roles and responsibilities and use a clear and flexible plan – all essential qualities for successful ILTs. In addition, all individuals had to feel valued and report satisfaction in working together.
And in the midst of the activity, teams were thrown some challenges such as switching principals, assistant principals or team members – all commonplace happenings throughout a school year.
“The point of this professional learning activity was to work as a team to manage those relationship pieces, to manage the process together and to get to the result,” said Labiosa. “Though some teams did not completely reach the desired outcome [due to their towers tilting when impacted by a gentle breeze], they achieved success on at least one dimension and that is also a measure of success when we think of ILTs motivating people back in the building. If we continue to build solid relationships while working through the process, we will get to the results we want.”
“So far we’ve seen a lot of things that we can implement in just a few hours here,” Glenwood kindergarten teacher Elizabeth Merce said. “We are getting a lot of good ideas.”
Adrienne Kravchak, gifted resource teacher at White Oaks Elementary, agreed.
“I think [this professional learning] is great,” she stated. “We are seeing new ways that we can improve.”
Landstown Middle School Assistant Principal Miranda Conover appreciated the reflective activities. “Looking back at this past year, those really showed where we can go this next year. We want to be catalysts for change in the building.”
Teams will return in July and dive into the design process.
“They are going to be thinking through a challenge in their building,” said Janene Gorham, director of teacher learning and leadership.
During the school year, teams will meet again quarterly and continue “investigating and experimenting; coming up with solutions; trying out things; iterating; and coming back to share what they’ve learned across schools,” Gorham added.
“The solution might not be one that can be arrived at in a year,” Gorham said. “It may be something that takes multiple years, but we hope that by the end of the year each person has grown as a leader and that collectively they have grown as a team.”
See more pictures from this professional learning activity and continue following the academy throughout the year by visiting the hashtag #VBLearnGrowServe.
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