Thursday, February 12, 2015

InterviewedAgain

With some regularity I field interview questions.  Happened to me again today.  The exchange is below:

1) How do you advocate, nurture, and sustain a district culture and instructional program conducive to student learning through collaboration, trust, and a personalized learning environment with high expectations for students?

Communication is the vehicle by which leaders travel – either successfully or not.  The verbs in your question – advocate, nurture, and sustain – only become realities through effective communication.  Schools are organized, built, funded, and staffed for one reason and one reason only:  LEARNING.  When leaders have that understanding tattooed onto their soul, it becomes the centerpiece of their communications.  When communications along those lines become predominant and pervasive and when others perceive those communications as inherently heartfelt, then the collaboration and trust follow.  Learning is always a personal endeavor (if one believes in constructivist theory), but the richest learning environments honor the personalness of learning and strive to craft learning tasks that embody that reality.

2) How do you create and evaluate a comprehensive, rigorous, and coherent curricular and instructional district program?

Communications is the tool by which the curricular-instructional program is created.  Thousands of conversations (not mandates or directives) must occur to develop a common understanding of what the best approaches are to affect personal and customized learning for each child AND each adult.

3) How do you develop and supervise the instructional and leadership capacity across the district?

Dr. John Gardner says that the fundamental responsibility of leaders is to “manage the attention” of the organization.  Moving from that abstraction to something a bit more concrete, I believe the fundamental tasks of leaders should always be centered on developing those around them.  Specifically, helping others develop their God-given gifts to the fullest.  If those gifts lie in the domains of instruction and leadership, so be it.  If they lie in other areas, so be it.  This means that the leader must know those who work with him/her well - well enough to identify their gifts.  Then, opportunities and work assignments must be devised/revised to accentuate and accelerate those gifts.  

4) How do you promote the most effective and appropriate district technologies to support teaching and learning within the district?

Technology is nothing more than a tool.  Pencils represent technology, spiral notebooks are a technology, air conditioning is a technology, as are phones, buses, iPADs, projectors, and graphing calculators.  Those who work in schools – which exist only for the purpose of learning – must strive to use any and all technologies available to advance learning.  Some technologies are more robust than others, to be sure.  For instance, long division with pencil and paper can be used to find quotients; so can calculators.  A handsaw can be used to cut down a tree; so can a chain saw.  The trick, from the learning perspective, is to choose the technology/tool that is most aligned to the learning outcome one is trying to achieve. 

5) How do you maintain on-going and effective communication with the educational community?

I tend to talk the same talk whether I’m talking to teachers, elementary students, business leaders, secondary students, parents, graduate students, or school administrators.  The vocabulary and register may change, but the message is always the same: Our job is to take each student and adult that walks into our schools and optimize their learning – period.

6) How do you support your campus principal’s in implementing PLC’s on their campuses?

Schools have cultures.  Some have cultures centered on learning (the intent of PLCs) and some are centered on other things.  In my view, it is more important to help principals learn (there’s that development thing again) about how cultures morph and change and ebb and flow, and how the principal's words, actions, and intentions get reflected in that cultural evolution than it is to try to teach them how to build structures (e.g., PLCs) that become bogus and hollow without the underlying leadership understanding.  Another way of saying this (simpler, I hope) is that I believe it more important to help principals understand how to create the conditions that support PLC-like behavior than it is to create a PLC in structure.

7) How and what do you celebrate in your district?

Rituals are a fundamental contributor to culture.  If the culture we desire is a culture of learning, then our rituals should be built around learning successes.  Celebrating success can be as simple as a thank you note and as extravagant as a banquet.  Acknowledging and affirming learning must be the driver behind all those celebrations, whether it’s praise for a 1st grader who reads to you in your office, or to an instructional aide who earns a bachelors degree, or a teacher who gains administrative credentials, or a class of graduating seniors.  Learning has to be the common denominator of the celebrations.

8) What questions drive the work of the teams in your district?

How can we be better at making learning happen today than we were yesterday?

9) What evidence shows that your district practices are aligned with your district’s priorities?

Soft data like collaborative learning at all age levels, improved communication skills across grade levels, manifestations of service and compassion and affiliation, expressions and demonstrations of adherence to commonly adopted values (see the Guthrie Graduate Profile at
http://www.guthriejags.com/profile.html for the details) provide evidence of alignment to our priorities. Hard data like attendance rates, graduation rates, academic performance data, college and workplace success, ACT/SAT offer a different view of success, though no more or less important than the soft data.

10) What procedures are in place when you experience failures in your district?


When we fail, we reflect.  We ask why, and look for root causes for those failures.  We don’t ask why with intent to blame.  Failure is a fundamental part of the learning process.  And, yes, LEARNING is the purpose of our existence.

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