Home > Educational Leadership > No Guts, No Glory

No Guts, No Glory

“It is worth emphasizing that the most important single activity to promote reading is reading. It is even better if this is done with a purpose, and if we regularly write about and discuss what we read.” Mike Schmoker

Fair warning, this entry is a rant, and a rant that I hope will resonate with the colleagues out there that share my role as a school principal or vice principal.  For me, our field is unique in two aspects; one is the very public nature of our system, any given school hosts hundreds of children and families and requires a great deal of interplay and negotiation, on a daily basis. The other aspect, ironically, is the prevailing cultural norm that limits and inhibits collaboration among teachers with regards to instructional practice.

I’m not interested in publishing a treatise on school change and systems thinking, I only wish to issue a invitation to those of us who work in formal leadership roles at the school level, can we agree to step up on the courage front?

We have no shortage of research on best practice in the area of literacy instruction, we have examples of incredible teachers accomplishing incredible things in classrooms and schools around the corner and around the globe. Often, we have examples of teacher providing this instruction in classrooms right across the hall from classrooms where the instruction is no where near that quality. How can this be?

This is not a rhetorical question, this can only be because we as school administrators allow it to be.  Sure, the change process takes time, and relationships are important and there are many structural challenges we face, but none of these forces are sufficient to undermine the reality of the impact that effective, focused instructional leadership can have when it is applied with courage.

We know what the components of good teaching are, and yet there remains examples of  stale teaching in too many of our classrooms, why? In school districts we see ineffective, or out-dated  practices that amount to busy work, leading to limited student engagement and a tremendous loss of capacity and we wonder why?

Research unequivocally supports the fact that an effective literacy program allows for generous amounts of time for students to engage in independent reading, with the chance to talk and write about what has been read. In middle school years, up to 60 minutes ought to be allocated for this process on a daily basis. Here’s a challenge. Take a walk through your  grade 4 to 8 classrooms during the literacy black this week and find out of this is the case.

If you find a classroom in your building where this is not the case, have a courageous conversation about why this is not happening, take a stand as an instructional leader and do something about it (and complaining doesn’t count as doing something about it).

We have a very challenging job as school leaders and we have to support each other to make the changes that need to happen, happen. We have the knowledge and the experience, the question that remains, do we have the guts?

  1. Royan Lee
    October 10, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I have been thinking the same thing of late. Courage seems to me in short supply. I often feel the implicit pressure to maintain status quo. I am sure you know this feeling.

    In terms of reading instruction, I still notice a chasm when it comes to teachers and administrators understanding of the value of focused independent reading IN the classroom. I think some regard the process as laissez faire, not understanding the crucial role it plays in the gradual release of responsibility.

    Thanks for the rant.

    • October 10, 2010 at 1:51 pm

      I choose to focus on reading because it’s such a fundamental task and because the irony of what we see is so stark~ how can one become better at something that they rarely practice?

      Thanks for taking the time to read (and respond) my friend. Enjoy the glorious day!

  2. October 14, 2010 at 10:09 am

    Any ideas how to foster truly meaningful collaboration? Each grade team in our school was provided with CASTLE time (one grade team per week). We were released as a team, along with an administrator, where possible, and a facilitator. I found the collaboration to be superficial at best.

    I speak for myself when I say that I often feel the pressure to create “wow” learning experiences in ym classroom. I have often felt guilty when an administrator walks through my room and sees kindergartens “enjoying a book”. We need to give ourselves permission to allow these simple yet fundamental opportunities to occur.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • October 14, 2010 at 1:40 pm

      Thanks for the response. Your comment about feeling guilty about your K students ‘enjoying a book’ is instructive. It speaks to me of the paradigm we knew as students, were the teacher controlled the learning, rather than the learning environment. We will need to shift our understandings and beliefs to value the learner controlling their learning. For me, there is nothing more compelling (and wow provoking) than the sight and sound of 20 or 30 children all reading quietly and independently at the same time and in the same place; it’s like I can ‘feel’ their thoughts, as they read.

      There’s a difference between a quiet class and a silent class; a skilled administrator needs to value and support the reality that powerful thinking and learning occurs when children are reading, quietly.

      • Natalie Whitehouse
        October 14, 2010 at 3:29 pm

        Prior to reading your last paragraph in your response i was about to comment on the silent classroom. I really enjoy seeing students get excited about what they are reading. The murmurs of “hey guess what just happened..” are n incredible thing to hear. The respectfully quiet classroom is far more rewarding than the silent classroom.

        Enjoy reading your thoughts from the smaller office. Great things come from small offices, I presume.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: