Issue #6: What instructional leadership means to me right now
Tiffany Hampton is a continuation high school principal in Bloomington, CA. You can follow her on Twitter at @SMHS_CJUSD.
Fall is always a busy time for us lead learners, and in a way, this year looks no different: Every day, I’m still giving my all to encourage my team’s plans and my students’ progress. But while I used to do all this in person, now I drop into a video class and wave at the kids, wondering if the ones with their cameras off are doing okay, making a mental note to check if anyone needs my support – including the teacher.
When I reflect on the instructional leader I want to be for my school community, I always come back to one word at the heart of my practice: trust. I lead a continuation high school, and with new students joining us every six weeks, trust is my foundation. I trust my team to inspire and engage our kids, and our kids to share their goals and needs with us – and I trust myself to promote success for every student. In this unusual fall, if we school leaders build each day on trust, we can build a learning experience that will feel supportive and empowering for our students – no matter how “different” it may look. Here are a few ways I center trust in my leadership practice:
I encourage risk-taking on my team.
If teachers are worried about failing, they can’t innovate, and if they can’t innovate, we can’t serve our learners – especially during the challenges of this pandemic. I make sure the teachers know they have my trust, and because of that, they’re constantly stretching and experimenting to support our students – and they’re modeling the mindset that our kids need to thrive, in school and in life.
I promote collaborative, innovative instruction.
It’s so important to make learning feel resonant and relevant for students – and that means promoting a culture of shared support and innovation on my team. Every week, I build in time for teacher-led PD, when educators collaborate across subject areas to inspire our students. Collaboration empowers everyone, from tenured teachers to new hires, from ELL educators to instructional coaches, to bring so much value to the table – and to our students.
I build student engagement on relationships.
Before kids can relate to what we’re teaching them, they have to relate to us – and they have to trust us. Right now, I can’t greet our kids in front of the school and see who’s slamming a car door or looking upset – so instead, my team and I start each day of online learning with wellness checks and chances to talk. We hold time every Wednesday for SEL activities, and I reach out to students every weekend, just to connect. By inviting kids to open up personally, we can empower them to open up academically and grow. Many of my students have experienced barriers to achievement in the past, and I love telling them I’m here to support and encourage their steps. I love telling them, “All that matters now is you.”
Sometimes I think about how glad we school leaders will be when this time of disruption and doubt has passed – but I believe that when we look back, we won’t see the moments when our videos froze or our email inboxes filled up. We’ll see all the ways we supported our teams and our school communities. We’ll see all the ways we told our students, “All that matters now is you” – and all the ways we made a difference.
Continuation High School Principal
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#PrincipalOfficeHours Chat Roundup: 5 Insights From Your Fellow School Leaders on Instructional Leadership
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A year ago, high school principal Mark Shanoff shifted his school community’s approach to ability grouping, moving a number of underserved students into honors classes – and resetting expectations for their academic success. Now, he’s recommending six questions that fellow school leaders might ask to build an equitable learning journey for every student. Read his approach here.
Professional development can do so much to encourage your team’s goals, promote their growth and build excitement for new collaborations to support students – but what PD might work best for the teachers in your school community? Here, six suggestions for bringing your team the PD opportunities that will mean the most – click to read on.
In this demanding time, school leaders like you have so many priorities on your list. But we want to make sure #PrincipalProject is supporting your practice where you need it most. Let us know what you’d love to see more of from #PrincipalProject: