Friday, July 4, 2008

My Leadership Project

Below is my finished Leadership Project. I decided to tackle the problem of new teachers in the English department, as I have seen and experienced this myself, both as a new teacher and as someone who has worked in a very frequently "fragmented" English department. Enjoy!

1. A Case Study

The problem presented here concerns two brand new teachers to my English department. Both teachers, one male and one female, are new to the profession, having been hired right out of teacher’s college, and have little experience (beyond practice teaching) being in the classroom or delivering the Ontario English curriculum. Both teachers are quite capable, but in both cases English is not their main subject area, but rather their second teachable. As has been the trend, these teachers, though very well-recommended by their mentor-teachers, have been hired due to their coaching abilities, and will be taking part in coaching the boys and girls volleyball teams.
This has caused some tension in the English department among the three other experienced English teachers, who are becoming resentful of seeing the department fragmented by the hiring of coaches who have little experience in the subject area. In the past, there have been two other teachers who have come in to coach and taught in our department, and the result was somewhat chaotic. Resources went missing, and the teaching styles of these two novice teachers conflicted with the style of those with experience in the department who taught the same sections of English. Inconsistency in evaluation was another problem: the novice teachers tended to create easier assignments to collect that were less marking so they could devote more time to coaching; and the more experienced teachers, who have a better idea of what to assess (despite the marking load) were criticized by their students for “giving too much work.”

2. Context

According to Section 270.1 of the Ontario Education Act, (as of 2006), “Every new teacher shall participate in the following elements of the new teacher induction program” and also states in Section 270.2 that “A new teacher successfully completes the program when he or she receives two satisfactory ratings in performance appraisals under Part X.2 no later than the end of his or her new teaching period, subject to any extension provided for in the regulations. 2006, c. 10, s. 38.” These Teacher Performance Appraisals are central to ensuring that new teachers to any school board in Ontario are maintaining the professional standards as outlined by the Education Act, and the guidelines measured in this process would be integral in helping me as a Department Head ensure that those in my department were meeting Provincial standards.

In terms of their classroom delivery of the curriculum, the Ontario English Curriculum states that the Role of Teachers in delivering the curriculum is that “[t]eachers develop appropriate instructional strategies to help students achieve curriculum expectations, as well as appropriate methods for assessing and evaluating student learning” (The Ontario Curriculum, 6). Using the guidelines in the revised Ontario English curriculum as a source will help me determine which delivery methods are appropriate and instill this in the new teachers when they are determining what to evaluate.

3. Leadership:

In approaching how to best solve the issue presented to my department on how to ensure that my new novice teachers are delivering the curriculum in a manner befitting our department and the Ontario standards, I would definitely use the ideas raised in several of the research articles I observed. In “Learning to Lead,” a speech delivered to managers by the Director of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board, the idea that leadership is not about the leader’s own personal dream, but about promoting a “shared sense of destiny,” to have all those around you share in your vision is raised, and is an approach I would keep in mind because I feel having a strong department depends on all of the members working together and not feeling a sense of resentment or division from their colleagues on either side of the argument. I feel that as a leader I would rely on my team to help me decide what is best for our department, since we are all working together.
The four-step model provided by Warren Bennis in his article “The Leadership Advantage” I feel would be a very good plan to approach this particular problem, as it is not one that will be solved overnight, or by simply adding some kind of “quick fix.” As mentioned in his article, any good organization (or in this case, English department), however great or small must serve the needs of its followers. Good leaders, according to the article, encourage four supporting conditions to do this:
1. Providing Purpose: Effective leaders bring passion and significance to the purpose of its organization and, in turn, the purpose that its workers strive towards.
2. Generating and Sustaining Trust: exemplary leaders create an environment that promotes candor among its employees; the workplace should be a place where ideas are explored and discussed without the employees fearing the outcome.
3. Fostering Hope: exemplary leaders have the optimism to generate the energy and commitment necessary to get results and finish the task.
4. Getting Results: Exemplary leaders never forget that they must ultimately try their best to get results, and create a climate that tolerates when the results aren’t met, yet demands that everyone continue to strive for them.
I like his model because it is logical and follows and organized but flexible pattern to success. As a leader, I feel that having guidelines and being organized is extremely important in problem-solving, but one should always remain flexible to help from others and the intervention of other avenues to solve the same dilemma.

4. Plan

Using the above-mentioned four-step model, I would approach this problem using the following steps:

1. Providing Purpose: As new teachers, the male and female that are new to my department will ultimately be undergoing the Teacher Performance Appraisal (“TPA”) for new teachers as mandated by the Ontario Education Act. The use of the New Teacher Induction Program as a backdrop will alleviate any sense of mistrust that may be fostered by my approaching the new teachers independently and discussing the aforementioned concerns brought up by the senior members of the department. Since this is a year-long observation and will require two observations from the principal of the school, I would use this evaluation as a means of providing purpose for consistency among those teachers teaching the same grade level / section of English. As new teachers they will likely be nervous about delivering curriculum that is not their first teachable for the first time, particularly if they will be evaluated by the principal.
By the same token, since a big part of the TPA for new teachers involves being paired with a “mentor” who will act as someone to advise the new teacher and also observe their practice, I could use this idea to provide purpose too those seasoned members of the department (who are also teaching the same grade level as the new teacher, or who at least has taught it before) who can provide the insight needed to these new teachers on what to assess, and how to remain consistent.

2. Generating and Sustaining Trust: In meeting with my new teachers for the first time I would introduce them to the courses they are teaching by providing a course binder (if available) and the course profiles, and generally familiarize them with how things have been running in the department in years past. I would encourage them to create a unit of their own (if they have most of the course materials), outside of what has been provided and approach me when devising new assignments for major assessment (tests, essay questions, etc.) to ensure that they were aligned with the curriculum document and that the assessment pieces in their classes and the class of the other, more experienced staff member was comparable.
I would not, as a leader, want to promote the idea that the way things have been done before is the ONLY way, because part of what makes new teachers so refreshing is their unique and fresh look at how to deliver the curriculum and assess the students. I would not want to discourage creativity however I would create a very collegial environment, where the new teachers did not feel intimidated to share their ideas or, to respect the criticism and advice of experienced teachers. Pairing them with “mentors’ in the department (and as a part of their TPA) will help promote and sustain this feeling of professional trust and maintain a unified department.

3. Fostering Hope: Through my own classroom observation and frequent (weekly) informal meetings with the new teachers to see how things are progressing, I will try to give the new teachers hope that they are doing a good job in following the expectations and guidelines of our department, while at the same time meeting with their mentors (the experienced teachers in my department) to investigate any concerns. Continued contact and an open-door policy for questions about any part of school like should promote a feeling of confidence in the new members and experienced members alike.
By way of ensuring that lessons and assessment are meeting our standards, I will occasionally ask to see what they are doing in their courses that day or that week, reminding them that part of their Teacher Performance Appraisal will involve the principal evaluating their lessons. This will give me an opportunity to peruse what they are delivering and provide any feedback, positive or otherwise, to ensure their success. This, I feel, will foster hope among both the new teachers and the experienced ones, that there will be no compromising the integrity or our courses or of the department.

4. Getting Results: As Department Head, it is suggested by the guidelines of the New Teacher Induction Program to informally assess the new teachers by observing their classrooms informally before or after the principal has conducted their performance review, particularly if that teacher has selected me as a mentor. Using this guideline as a cue gives me the perfect opportunity to see, if after a few months of delivering the curriculum and working with other members of the department, if our new teachers were getting favorable results in the classroom, and among their colleagues. The success of my approach can also be measured in their formal performance appraisal itself, as observed in discussion and collaboration the principal or vice-principal.
I would not use this appraisal as the only measure of success however, because the final results would ultimately lie in the students’ success that term. Comparison of class averages between the new teachers and those of more experience in the same section can be a subjective indicator of success, but I would also keep my ear to the ground, as it were, to gage student response to these new teachers. With all of the aforementioned steps and procedures, my hope is that the problem would be seen as a challenge to all those in my department to engage and welcome new ideas and perceptions to our teaching in to the fold, and as a leader I would ensure that a positive working and learning environment is maintained.


looribee said...

That was great Tim, really well thought out! I think your interpretation and execution of the four step plan was right on!

Jim Corbett said...

Well presented Tim! I am impressed with the depth of statutory referencing - I struggled with that on my own project (where did you find all of that?).
I also liked the way that you referenced the articles on Leadership in your post: I also read the Hamilton-Wentworth speech and was deeply impressed with the insights shared there. The 4-part model of successful leadership is new to me, however, and I think that you've done a fantastic job of integrating it into your plan of action.
Speaking of which...I think that your approach to solving the problem is sound. Using the TPA/NTIP process as a backdrop to accomplish the Departmental motive of ensuring adequate focus on curriculum over coaching is, I think, an excellent move: your argument is already largely made for you, and it brilliantly offers a way for your senior teachers to have a hand in shaping the Department as a whole. I also like the way that you've approached the problem: that is, you have made it a priority to involve all of the players concerned, and you have built in ways to harness each individual's contribution potential - both young and old. I agree that stagnation can take place in the absence of "new blood" to a department, yet I also agree that there is wisdom to be gleaned from the experienced teachers (and you can't reasonably expect seasoned wisdom from a fledgling teacher).
If I had to pick one thing that I might challenge about your approach to this problem, it would be in the way that the other members of your Department would be involved. What I mean is, to what extent would they be empowered, and how might that empowerment actually dilute the authority of yourself as Department Head? It may be a non-issue entirely, but like I said, if I had to choose something that generated a questioning reaction from me, that was it. Everything else sounds solid. I'd be happy to be in your department, and I'd be thrilled to be given such respect and influence from a department head.