Personal Growth and Development Plan
Assessment of Leadership Strengths and Areas Needing Growth
2.1 Promote Positive School Culture
a. Candidates assess school culture using multiple methods and implement context-appropriate strategies that capitalize on the diversity (e.g., population, language, disability, gender, race, socioeconomic) of the school community to improve school programs and culture.
At school, I am a member of a newly established group called the Vantage Writing Program. This pilot writing program integrates computers into the students’ writing curriculum. Only eight out of the 21 teachers from the fourth and fifth grade are part of this group. My strengths include my ability to empathize with other people’s mental models and perspectives and understanding the correlation between their perspectives and actions. This strength has a positive impact on groups I work with because being a good listener disarms the participants and makes them more comfortable sharing ideas. For example, at our first meeting Ms. Brown, a teacher, spoke passionately about a lesson she wanted the group to consider using, and I attempted to tell her that I agreed with part of what she was saying but that I needed some clarification. At first, she took this message very negatively, clamped up completely, and even left the room at one point. However, when she returned I expressed my interest in learning more about her point of view. This changed the tone of the group immediately as she started to open up and share. One of my weaknesses is my desire to be recognized and at times, validated by my peers. For example, I try to share my opinions at the meetings for this writing program and am acutely aware of everyone’s response to me. This hypersensitivity serves and disserves me. It serves me because I am participating both as an insider and as an observer and am therefore able to pick up more information than I would otherwise. However, it is mentally exhausting to over think the speaker’s subtext and intent, and then consider whether it requires a response. This influences my tone toward the group which in turn impacts the interactions I have with them. I am not as receptive to their ideas if I feel that team members are indifferent to my contribution. This could have a negative effect on the group’s dynamic. The process involves a lot of group interactive thinking and sharing out of ideas and it becomes a constant challenge to communicate effectively when I feel that people have such different perspectives.
In order to assess the school culture and the unique dynamics of the group I work with, one strategy that I intend to use will take into account factors such as the age, gender, years of teaching experience and their influence on how well the group members seem to relate to one another. I will keep these factors in mind, next time a member speaks, to make more sense of what he or she is saying. For example, in the future I will make it a point to listen to other educators who may have different opinions than I do about teaching. I will communicate that I understand where they are coming from by utilizing specific conversation models that facilitate effective communication. Phrases such as “You said-----; my understanding is that you feel or it is because you strongly believe; I would like to share my viewpoint so we can arrive at a consensus.” Other strategies I can implement to facilitate my development in this area, is not being hypersensitive about making mistakes or disagreeing without feeling guilty or concerned that the group member is insulted. This requires thoughtful reflection and making appropriate adjustments along the way. Using the lessons I learned about the emotional intelligence of groups, I will gage my audience and respect the feelings of others. Another strategy that we can use is establishing group norms. Initially we did not discuss group norms nor did it happen naturally. After two sessions, some disappointed group members talked about the need for having group norms and at our AP’s suggestion they were included to facilitate better group collaboration. We took the advice and talked briefly about group norms during the next meeting. Next time I work with this group, I will make sure that we adhere to the established group norms so we can comfortably share our unique strengths and weaknesses. The most important norm that I will focus on in group sessions is respect for each member’s feelings. I will do this by openly and clearly communicating my commitment to respect other group member’s feelings and point out the importance that feeling valued has on group efficacy.
3.2 Manage Resources
a. Candidates demonstrate the ability to involve staff in conducting operations and setting priorities using appropriate and effective needs assessment, research-based data, and group process skills to build consensus, communicate, and resolve conflicts in order to align resources with the organizational vision. In school, I am on the Inquiry Team that has to use research-based data to determine the specific areas in which students need remediation. My assigned role is to be the liaison between the group and the administration. Our group is investigating the effect of using technology to teach math on student performance. We are measuring student performance by reviewing the results from the fourth grade math state exam. We started by looking at student scores from their math state exam in 2010. We also gave students a math simulation during the fall this year 2010. We compared the data and identified the lowest one third performing students in the state exam. In our research we discovered that the math strand that these students were scoring lowest on was number sense. As we deepened our research, we started to investigate further the specific performance indicators within the number sense strand that kept repeating as areas our students’ demonstrated difficulty in. My strength in this group is the fact that I am a reflective, self-monitoring person with an open mind and a strong willingness to learn. My attitude for learning has a tremendous impact on my group. One of my team members said the other day that I was someone she admired because of my dedication to student learning and achievement. I think this attitude that I have inspires others who are like me in terms of age and teaching experience but have a less comprehensive understanding of how to utilize all the valuable learning and teaching information that is available. My weakness in respect to this group is my natural tendency to lead which could be perceived as a bit overpowering to a small group of people. This is a difficult thing to work on because it is neither a forced attitude nor a conscious choice. For me to change this I would have to manipulate the words I choose to use and this would feel unnatural. It would also be difficult because the passion I feel is expressed with the conviction in my tone as I express my point of view. It is in the nature of groups to compromise to reach agreed upon solutions, but I am not particularly enamored by compromise. I have well thought out, well informed opinions, but I have an open mind when I am unsure about a topic.
Some strategies that I can utilize to continue to have a more positive experience and impact on my group include showing my support for each group members’ contribution by incorporating their ideas. Also, I can make an effort to be more conscious of listening to each group member’s ideas and seriously considering their suggestions before making any key decisions. One way to do this is to record each members ideas on a chart. As our deliberations continue, each member is able to reference all of the suggestions and hopefully integrate the best from each. Since being the leader of the group involves dividing up tasks that the group performs, I can also delegate some of the responsibilities. In order to maximize the time we have together, each one of us needs to focus his or her energy on specifically assigned tasks. Rather than trying to do everything like I usually do, I will delegate different aspects of the project to other members. Another strategy that I will put in place is to periodically check for progress along the way to make sure all team members are completing their project assignments. For example, by creating an agenda for each meeting the objectives are clear. At the end of the meeting we can check off the areas we successfully completed. This way we are holding ourselves accountable for every session.
6.3 Influence the Larger Context
a. Candidates demonstrate the ability to engage students, parents, and other members of the community in advocating for adoption of improved policies and laws.
This August I attended the Common Core State Standards Summer Institute and was asked by my principal to help turnkey the information obtained during the workshop in school through professional developments. I attended this four day intensive introduction to the CCSS with three other school colleagues. I thought this would be an easy task and as long as I was well-informed, I would simply share the information with my colleagues. I did not consider the ‘influence the larger context’ concept. Although there has been a nationalization of the CCSS and schools have a three year rollout to adopt and implement the program, not everyone seems to respond to this with urgency. The group consisted of three literacy staff developers and me. We had to meet to develop a plan for the first presentation of the new CCSS. I thought my communication strengths (being articulate) and coming to the meeting well-informed would be all I needed. I was wrong. That did not help me connect with my teacher audience because I failed to establish an emotional rapport with them. I stood at that PD as a presenter and felt the disengagement of the audience. It did not make sense because I was prepared, had read for four hours the night before, and had written index cards to include everything I wanted to say. I realized at that moment that my passion does not automatically ignite everyone else’s passion. I now realize that there is always resistance to change. For the next presentation as part of the CCSS rollout, I will now anticipate the audience and gain their acceptance by showing that the changes help them personally. Instead of just stating that we are required to rollout the CCSS, I will show them how the use of the CCSS helps teachers with planning clearer objectives. My weakness here was assuming that because the program is worthwhile and being nationally mandated, there would not be any resistance. Without prior anticipation, we were not able to prepare for it. This affected the success of our presentation. I now realize that there will always be resistance. My strength was that I was able to realize something was wrong because the teachers were not engaged. After the meeting was over, I initiated a conversation with the group about the changes that needed to be made in order to engage the teachers for the next PD. My weakness was not anticipating the resistance from the teachers or preparing a backup plan. This adversely affected the outcome of the group presentation.
Moving forward, my strategy is to start discussing the CCSS with some colleagues casually to get their feedback about what’s working for them and what’s not. After getting a sense of what the principle areas of concern are, I will incorporate their issues in a fact sheet and forward the results to the CCSS school liaison for appropriate action. I will also utilize the fact sheet to give me better direction for my presentations. Teachers will be asked to come with information about successful lesson exemplars and share their experiences with one another. Then we will have a discussion about the new CCSS and how we could incorporate them into the lessons. In the future, instead of a single all embracing presentation, I will use a step by step presentation approach to make the information easier to understand and more relevant to their personal career goals and concerns. I have the passion and understand the urgency for change, but not everyone else is going to respond in the same way. I cannot assume that everybody is ready to adopt a change just because the change is positive. I will try to utilize strategies to recognize that people very often resist change. I will not take this natural resistance to change personally. I also will adjust my tone and pace to meet the audience both mentally and emotionally. Before I present, I will ask a friend or colleague to listen to my presentation and give me constructive feedback.
4.1 Collaborate with Families & Other Community Members
b. Candidates demonstrate an ability to involve families in the education of their children based on the belief that families have the best interests of their children in mind.
As the program progresses and discussions ensue with instructors and guest speakers, I start to see the importance of family involvement in a child’s education. The belief that families have the best interests of their children in mind seems obvious. After all, we care so much about our students; their parents must care much more and just as interested in wanting their child to do well. As part of the Inquiry Team process, we have to select low scoring students to provide remedial tutoring and monitor their progress in order to collect accurate data that will best assist them. To do this it is necessary to obtain the consent of the students’ parents. At first, I did not consider their parents as part of the decision making process in respect to the Inquiry Team. I figured that the inquiry was justified since the students were low performing. However, things are not that simple. In general, my weakness is interesting because it is also my strength. I see things and I come up with action plans to get the job done. I am results oriented and believe in selecting appropriate means to achieve an end. In my desire for expedient, decisive action occasionally overlook some key details such as the parents! One of my group members pointed out that we needed to send parents an information letter advising that their child is part of the study for the Inquiry Team. This had not occurred to me before, but seemed like a good idea. One of my strengths is my consistency and ability to follow through. For example, we needed test result breakdowns that only the data specialist at our school has access to and so I sent her an email eliciting her assistance. The next day she provided me the information that I had requested, but it was missing many of the students from my class. Instead of sitting on this for a week, I e-mailed her again and asked for the missing information that I needed. My ability to communicate with a goal in mind is what makes me the professional that I am today. I’m not afraid of working and getting a job done. Being a perfectionist to a certain degree affects the pace at which I work. For example, it might take me five times as long to get a task done that otherwise may have taken a much shorter amount of time. This does not affect work deadlines because I invariably start on an assignment early knowing the extra time I take to complete it. Another of my important strengths is that I am always prepared. If I have a specific task or research item for my group, I almost always do more than what was agreed upon. In respect to the parents, they are able to see the extra effort I put into my work and into their children’s success.
One of the strategies I have started to implement to get the parents involved is contacting them via phone on a weekly or biweekly basis. Also, in relation to the Inquiry Team, we can update and involve parents on their child’s progress in math by sending home a monthly newsletter indicating what they have been working on. Additionally, our school has created a webpage for teachers to post relevant information for parents and students to access and stay up to date with all that is going on in school. We can make use of this tool to further communicate our goals for the student’s success after this inquiry is over with in June. In addition, we can provide training for parents who wish to access their child’s performance on various state exams through the use of ARIS. Lately, I have also utilized another communication strategy and I have started emailing parents when I have questions or want them to provide support for their children at home on a particular subject. I will share the interactive websites that the Inquiry Team will be using to reach the students we are working with. Another strategy involves having more Parent Workshops. I taught Parent Workshops last year and provided parents with a lot of information on the NYS ELA and Math Exams. This could also be a forum for sharing information about a school inquiry and its intended purpose and benefits for the students involved.
My philosophy of leadership is simple. A leader is a person who has vision, the ability to think strategically as well as take action and has the capacity to make ordinary people do extraordinary things.
An effective leader must have the answers to three questions that are an essential part of the planning process – Where we are? Where do we want to be? How do we get there? If you don’t know where you are, then you can go nowhere, and if you don’t know where you want to go it will not matter what road you take because you’ll never get there. Another way of saying the same thing is that you cannot locate an address in Chicago using a map of New York. The Teleology Theory combined with Virtue Ethics can guide decisions when what is right or wrong is not obvious. Teleology Theory considers the consequences of action in terms of what will produce the most good and do the least harm. Virtue Ethics focus is on the well being of others (Beckner, 2004, p.151). I believe that it is easy to make sure you do no harm, but to focus on doing good is the ultimate goal of a leader.
The purpose of a business is to create customers according to Peter Drucker, the greatest business philosopher of the 20th century, and the purpose of a school is to produce competent students who are the principal reason for its existence (Drucker, 1973, p.73). But like a business, a school has three constituencies that a leader must take into account – students, parents and teachers. All must play their appropriate part if the school and the education system are to be successful. A leader must thoroughly analyze the situation and understand the strengths and weaknesses of these three constituencies in order to develop appropriate strategies and action plans that meet the needs of the existing organization. A leader must not only be efficient but she must even more importantly be effective. That means not only must the leader do things right but she must also do the right things. She must manage for results. This can only be done by establishing specific short and long term goals and measuring actual results against these specific goals. According to research, the Goal-Setting Theory suggests that people work hard when they have realistic, specific, and challenging goals and receive feedback about progress toward the goals (Hoy & Miskel, 2008, p. 168). As a current teacher, I see and feel the importance of knowing what my end goals are. Without feedback, I feel lost at times. As a leader, I will remember that teachers need fundamental things to be in place: a curriculum, assessments, accountability. Part of a teacher being held accountable begins with a leader giving laser like focus to the establishment of professional goals. Everyone must feel that the school’s goals are communicated, clear and realistic before they will accept and commit to them.
One of the greatest educational challenges is to stop the growing achievement gap between middle and low income students. In addition, the dropout rate for Latino and African American youth are very high. I believe that the single most important factor on student progress is having effective teachers in the classroom. According to the Expectancy Theory, “people subjectively evaluate the expected values on outcomes or personal payoffs resulting from their actions, and then they choose how to behave” (Hoy & Miskel, 2008, p.154). If people don’t feel like their efforts are worth anything and that they will not be appreciated, then they will be less likely to be committed. As a leader, I want to facilitate the buy-in from my teachers and this will begin with making them feel valued and recognized. This can be as simple as verbal praise during an encounter or a written letter of appreciation for their hard work.
There are no specific qualities that are characteristic of all leaders. Some are collaborative, some are authoritarian, some are hard driving, and some are very personable. Irrespective of style the effective leader produces the right results by planning, organizing, staffing, delegating and monitoring. The truth is a principal cannot do it all alone. She must observe the Team Effectiveness Model which states that teams are more creative and productive when they can achieve high levels of participation, cooperation, and collaboration among members. There are three basic conditions that need to be created before such behavior can occur: mutual trust among members, a sense of group identity, and a sense of group efficacy (Druskatt &Wolf, 2001, p.83). According to the Primal Leadership Theory, the leader in any human group has been the one to whom others look for assurance and clarity when facing uncertainty or threat, or when there’s a job to be done. The leader acts as the group’s emotional guide (Goleman, 2002, p. 5). If a leader is not approachable, then teachers will not feel comfortable seeking support which will inevitably have a negative impact on the effectiveness of the teachers.
Not only in words, but even more so in action a principal should come across as a friend, a guide, a motivator and as a champion of student learning and achievement. Greenleaf states that leadership through example and personal conduct are the most essential elements in the development of a better and more ethical organization (Beckner, 2004, p.153). In my view a school leader must do eight specific things that will produce high quality education:
- Introduce a broader, more rigorous and interesting curriculum combined with processes that will increase state mandated test scores.
- Develop better and more effective teachers meeting high standards. This has to be done through better qualitative recruitment, improved teacher training, stronger motivation to perform effectively and accountability for results.
- Introduce more meaningful teacher evaluation benchmarks than just test score results. This could perhaps be done by establishing a “Management by Objectives” program in which each teacher sits with the principal and jointly establish their goals for the year that can be quantitatively measured or assessed on a pre-agreed basis.
- Shape the school environment into not just a social arena but also an exciting and fun place of learning by constantly looking for new ideas, working in teams, and involving students, teachers, parents and experts in the process.
- Ensure that the necessary logistics are in place and there is a fair allocation of tasks and resources that will help produce the desired results.
- Greater parental involvement in the educational process particularly among the Latino and African American communities.
- Investigate, consider and use as a pilot program new teaching methods such as homeroom teachers and specialized teachers for each subject at each grade level.
- Use data based systems to measure and monitor progress of the school.
Finally, a leader must be willing to change with the times and keep up with the best practices in order to create a successful organization.
Beckner, W. (2004). Ethics for Educational Leaders. Boston: Pearson Education,
Drucker, P. (1973). Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. New York:
Druskat, V. & Wolff, S. (2001). Building the Emotional Intelligence of Groups.
Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Goleman, D. (2002). Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional
Intelligence. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Hoy, H. K., & Miskel, C. G. (2008). Educational Administration Theory, Research,
and Practice. (8th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.