Phil Echols |Senior Administrator of Professional Learning Wake County Schools
I’m grateful for this opportunity to learn, lead, and serve as a Senior Administrator supporting Professional Learning Teams (PLTs) and Coaching for Wake County Public Schools. At my core I value people, collaboration, and equitable practices allowing all voices to be heard. At an early age, I recognized, I have a high Emotional Intelligence and passion for serving others. Staying grounded and focused in my role isn’t easy, so I heavily rely on being reflective, empathetic, and building relationships. My identity is that of a collaborator, inquirer, and influencer. And, I am driven by empowering those around me to be the best they can be. As the 15th largest school district in the nation, it takes organization and a focus on learning to remain faithful to our mission to provide a relevant and engaging education to produce effective communicators, collaborators, creatives, and critical thinkers. PLTs are a means to realizing these ends. One of my goals this year was to establish my team as an exemplary PLT. We make data-based decisions, engage in the Team Initiated Problems Solving (TIPS) model, and successfully manage teamwork and collaboration. Beyond our protected PLT time, we check-in with each other and support thinking through posing questions and paraphrasing. I attribute much of our success to the attributes of our members, and I consistently make an effort to model these collaborative skills as a leader. All of which are essential skills of a highly effective PLT. The following effective leadership strategies offers a brief description of ways we promote adaptability, coaching, and modeling.
Many groups are called to collaborate, but have no direction on what that collaboration should look like or even have a bright idea of what collaboration is? Robert Garmston and Bruce Wellman, co-founders of Thinking Collaborative, developed the seven norms of collaborative work to guide and support effective collaboration. Consistent use of these norms enhances the quality and productivity of all forms of conversation in any group. Equipping our leaders with skills needed to be adaptable is essential to reaching our desired outcomes for students. One way we’ve fitted leader with some of these skills has been through providing Adaptive Schools Seminar training for all Principals and Assistant Principals. Adaptive Schools Seminars develop collective identities and capacities as collaborators, inquires, and leaders. The way we ask questions, support our colleagues, and develop other leaders is critical to our success. Reaching our goal of raising the graduation rate to 95% by 2020 involves a high level of flexibility and interdependence from our leaders.
Through Joyce and Showers’ (1995) seminal work and other researchers who are building on their research, we realize the undeniable value of coaching for long-term change in teachers’ instructional design and delivery. Our Coaching Collaborative Core team is continuously exploring ways to support coaching behaviors, coaching conversations, and coaching cycles. Ultimately, our goal is not only to equip stakeholders with coaching skills and practices but for coaching to become a part of our identity as a school district. We offer Cognitive Coaching Foundations Seminar training to all stakeholder with “coach” in their title (i.e., Math Coaches, MTSS Coaches, Academic Language Coaching, etc.). We also offer this training to select district-level personnel. Cognitive Coaching is an 8 Day training, developing by the Thinking Collaborative. Cognitive Coaching creates self-directed learners by mediating thought through pausing, paraphrasing, and posing questions. Pausing before responding, paraphrasing for clarity, and adding elements of invitation to our questions helps mediate thinking and creates the psychological safety needed for learning.
Educational leadership and the development and expansion of active learning systems is not limited to a specific role or title. All educators contribute. There is synergy in the inclusion of all voices and stakeholders in the school community. Our team works diligently to develop further and support ways for educators to communicate and collaborate effectively. Modeling the critical elements of PLTs and displaying informal coaching patterns (i.e., paraphrasing and posing questions) help stakeholders build trust and buy-in. It’s not enough to tell others what to do; we must lead by example. As we focus on doing what’s best for students, make data-driven decisions, and bring as many stakeholders to the table as possible for dialogue and discussion, we communicate to educators across the district through our actions, not just our words.
One core belief we hold in the Office of Professional Learning is striving for continuous improvement. Each day is a new opportunity to become better. Similar to the mission of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), I believe developing programs, products, and services essential to the way educators learn, teach, and lead is the means to not only a better WCPSS, but also a better world.