Collaborative professional teams are essential tools for growth and improvement in schools. As a result, just as the Cotsen Foundation for the ART of TEACHING creates powerful learning communities among mentors and fellows to improve their individual teaching practices, the foundation also offers dynamic leadership networks to school administrators and coaches, to support their efforts to promote and sustain school-wide instructional excellence. Two of the opportunities for school leaders that the ART of TEACHING offers are the New Teachers’ Center Principals’ Network, and Principals’ Technology Network (PTN).
SLN: School Leadership Network
Four years ago, the ART of TEACHING contracted with the School Leadership Network (now New Teachers’ Center Network) to develop powerful collegial networks in which principals can talk openly with one another about their work as leaders of their school community. This inquiry-based, problem-solving network meets nine to ten times a year. Their meetings focus on helping principals evolve as school leaders and face challenges with not just their own experiential know-how, but with the support of a cohort of leaders behind them who have experienced similar challenges. The results of this process lead to leadership empowerment, capacity, and accountability, which directly feed into increasing the instructional efficacy of teachers and transformational cultures of school sites.
“I love coming here,” said Kathy Davis, Principal of Tamura Elementary School in Fountain Valley. “I always leave here feeling renewed. We all live by ourselves at our schools and work in isolation most of the time But then we all come here, and learn we are all going through the same thing. I just love the camaraderie and conversations.”
In the last NTC meeting, school administrators discussed maximizing collective leadership work and calibrating leadership so that their staff experiences consistent feedback to drive results. They also shared their efforts in improving instruction, and creating a culture of collaboration to enhance teaching practices.
PTN: Principals’ Technology Network
The growth and development of technology in the 21st century has rapidly risen to staggering heights. The desire to enhance learning with technology integration is palpable, but like any tool, it can be used poorly and ineffectively. With iPads, Chromebooks, smart boards, projectors, and thousands of educational applications and websites readily available, principals face the difficult task of spearheading instructional technology throughout their schools within the constraints of their school budgets, and most importantly, what best serves their staff and students.
It is for this reason that Cotsen formed the Principals’ Technology Network two years ago. The goal of this unique opportunity is to provide principals with a coach and a network of supportive colleagues, all of whom are interested in moving their schools forward with the use of thoughtful technology. The coaches are typically Cotsen Alumni chosen by the Foundation and assigned to coach no more than two principals over a two-year period of time. They are released for several days throughout the year to help principals identify and implement their technology goals.
“When you join the PTN, you’re going to have a coach come to your school four times a year,” said Harris. “The first appointment is to discuss the principals’ vision and goals for the school and to assess where the school is with technology. During the year facilitators assist principals and the school technology leadership team to develop and begin implementing a plan.”
A popular component of the PTN is the PTN Dinner & Dialogue Meetings, which are held three times a year to showcase what principals are doing to integrate technology at their site in a beneficial and effective way. These meetings provide principals with an opportunity to engage in dialogue about their successes and challenges in integrating technology into excellent teaching, impact on their school’s culture and communications. The meetings serve as a platform for principals to share their experiences that may help others grow. In the most recent meeting, the topic of discussion focused on communication strategies being used to facilitate the school website and social presence.
“I have had a variety of meaningful opportunities to learn with and from colleagues about integrating technology,” said John Martinez, principal at Rowland Elementary School. “This has informed my own use of technology as well as what we have been working on with staff and students. The conversations, learning of digital tools, practical application, and visits to schools have all worked in concert to deepen my understanding and support the steps I have taken to affect change at my school.”
The Journey of Education
The quest for instructional excellence is a journey that never ends; for when we stop learning… stop moving forward, we actually loose ground. As the Cotsen Foundation works continuously to transform good teachers into excellent teachers, these singular transformations can be spread to other teachers with the support of committed knowledgeable principals who learn and grow alongside their staff.