True Educational Leadership in the Midst of Distress

About a week ago, I was leading a PD session on instructional supervision. Despite it being the end of the day, everyone in attendance was attentive and in good spirits. We collaborated and shared thoughts and innovations in our small and large groups. Overall, good feeling in the room.

The session [and our day] ended at 5:30. The last activity of the day was a large group collaboration on developing some quality look-fors in during classroom visits. The principals were very eager to dive into these questions and share with their tablemates.

At about 5:23, the principals in the room received an email from our county office that all principals, primarily elementary school administration, had been looking for with great anticipation. This email outlined what changes were going to be made to teaching assistant allocations in our district.

If you’re an educator in North Carolina, you are well aware of the proposed cuts to education programs in our state. Some of the changes include creating opportunities for vouchers, decreasing support for NC Teaching Fellows, and changing class ratios. Reducing TA positions statewide is another change that greatly impacts our schools, particularly at K – 5. It has been common knowledge that it was very likely to happen but we didn’t know for how it would look in our district. School needs have catalyzed principals’ ingenuity in creatively using these support positions change teaching and support learning in our schools.

The email revealed cuts across the board for elementary schools. It was troubling to see the despair and hurt on the principals faces. In one second, the good spirits in the room were changed into genuine and observable distress over teaching and learning programs in their schools as well as jobs and well-being for these persons affected. I felt bad for the principals and wanted to offer whatever meager help I could but that was premature. Overwhelmingly, every principal who was given this significant hurdle to overcome immediately went into planning  and recovery mode. Our talks shifted from our pd to collaborating on best practices and thought experiments on what could be done different. Alternatives won’t be ideal but these leaders kept the learning and teaching at the forefront. I spoke to John McMillan, a principal I’ve worked with in another pd session as we walked out. His message, which summarized that of every principal in the room, was simple – it hurts and its a problem but we have to keep it moving. That is true educational leadership. I was inspired.

More information the what is happening to NC education budget can be found here.

Strong leaders and great teachers will make a difference but we have to have support and be given priority.

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