My favourite assignment in this Masters of Educational Leadership and Management

Now that I have finished all coursework before embarking on my major paper, I feel confident to state my preference. This assignment was simple yet deeply instructive. I recommend making a goal of your own and reporting on your progress. Much of the learning that I did was shared with my colleagues in productive discussions.

Thanks to the instructors of MA ELM 550, Deborah Zornes and Lesley Lahaye: this four part assignment that explains a process as it unfolds must have been a huge challenge to sort out and a mess to assess. Ironic (and telling) that it was the most instructive!

ASSIGNMENT 1.1 Journal Entry #1:

Three Goals for One Adult Educator 

Stacey Harker

Royal Roads University

EDLM 550

Lesley Lahaye & Deborah Zornes

February 24, 2013

I teach in a small adult learning centre. There are four classrooms and approximately 20 staff, including teachers, instructional assistants, an academic advisor, a principal, an outreach worker, and a records clerk. Most of the teachers are long-term employees, with working relationships of 10 – 20 years. Because the centre is small and the employees are established, people know where they can get the information they want. The school culture is open to giving and receiving advice about procedures, curricula, and codes of conduct, most of which are determined by outside parties. Although communication about day-to-day events is generally 2-way symmetrical (Kowalski et.al., 2007, p24), it can be inconsistently employed, and is rarely about teaching and learning. The realities of adult education are different than those discussed in most literature about educational leadership. I am curious to know if the communication styles used at my school are unique to its context or its people.

Adult Education does not have Parent Advisory Committees, nor does it engage in community events. My school prides itself on being open to responding to student needs, yet there is little official engagement of students in a school advisory context. I would like to investigate how the school communicates with the community.

Further taxing the school is a continual concern about inadequate enrollment levels. The effects of not meeting the minimum class size are immediate and felt by students who lose access to education, by teachers who lose work, and by administrators who lose funding for the schools and must manage the many difficulties that arise from cancelled courses. The threat of cancellations is almost continual because intake occurs five times a year.  Even though the school delivers free BC Ministry of Education accredited courses in a caring and flexible manner, the school has a very low profile in the greater community.

I believe an investigation of the school’s communication style(s) will identify its strengths and weaknesses in the areas of facilitating teacher expertise, incorporating community input, and generating public awareness of the program. By the end of this course, I plan to achieve the following three goals:

  1. I will be able to discuss my learning about communicative competence in school administration. I will critique how well my understanding applies to administrating an AE centre by interviewing my principal about the breadth and modes of communication that she engages in with teachers, with particular emphasis on facilitating teacher expertise. Subsequently, I will hold a similar interview with a high school vice principal and compare the content of both discussions in an anecdotal effort to understand context
  2. I will understand the concept of Site-based Management (SBM) and determine if it is taking place at my school by recording the distribution of involvement in governance at my school. I will identify who takes part in decisions that affect the school and determine what type of SBM practice (Kowalski et.al. 2007, p.212) they have.
  3. I will understand the purposes and barriers to implementing school public relations. I will analyze how this relates to my school through a group discussion with my colleagues. I will suggest one new public relations activity my school can engage in.

 

Reference

Kowalski, T.J., Petersen, G., & Fusarelli, L.D., (2007). Effective Communication for School

Administrators: A Necessity in an Information Age. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Assignment 1.2: Update on Assignment 1.1 

March 10, 2013

GOAL # 1

  1. 1.     I will be able to discuss my learning about communicative competence in school administration. I will critique how well my understanding applies to administrating an AE centre by interviewing engaging in a discussion with my principal about the breadth and modes of communication that she engages in with teachers, with particular emphasis on facilitating teacher expertise. Subsequently, I will hold a similar interview dialogue with a high school vice principal and compare the content of both discussions in an anecdotal effort to understand context.

Goal #1 inaccurately described an informal, semi-structured discussion as an interview. Revisions for more accurate vocabulary are shown above.

I have been thinking about how I will focus my discussions that attempt to improve my understanding of an administrator’s perspective about facilitating teacher expertise. To that end, I have decided on the following four areas of focus:

  1. Differences between formal and informal communication about professional development.
  2. How mode and content of communication about teacher expertise are affected by teacher autonomy.
  3. The effectiveness of distributed leadership compared to top-down leadership in respect to professional development of teachers.
  4. A barrier to communication the administrator would like to remove in order to encourage teacher expertise.

All of these areas of focus have been informed by readings in Effective Communication for School Administrators (Kowalski et.al. 2007). The profound effect that Princess Alexandra Community School’s change in approach to communication has also informed the direction of the proposed conversation. The TED talk by Sugata Mitra (July, 2010) inspired me to see possibility where none might be perceived. Although I hope that the proposed conversations will drift into an optimistic analysis of what could be achieved, my communication goal is to receive feedback, not influence it.

GOAL # 2

  1. 1.     I will understand the concept of Site-based Management (SBM) and determine if it is taking place at my school by recording the distribution of involvement in governance at my school. I will identify who takes part in decisions that affect the school and determine what type of SBM practice (Kowalski et.al. 2007, p.212) they have.

I thought this goal was going to be the easiest of the three goals to meet. I have begun a record of committees that meet to govern the school. At this point, I feel a bit unsure of the value of this activity, which feels self-evident. Nevertheless, I will forge ahead remembering Margaret Wheatley’s advice, “Everything is a failure in the middle” (2010).

GOAL # 3

In Assignment 1.1 Lesley Lahaye commented about my third goal, “If you implement this strategy, how might you determine its level of success?” I had intended that my suggestion would be the benchmark of success. I have revised this goal by making the last sentence more specific:

  1. 2.     I will understand the purposes and barriers to implementing school public relations. I will analyze how this relates to my school through a group discussion with my colleagues. I will suggest one new public relations activity my school can engage in.

The outcome of this discussion will be that the group suggests one new or revised public relations activity.

If I am not successful in achieving this goal, the group will not make such a suggestion. That said, if they refrain from making a suggestion, I will experience a barrier to implementing school public relations that can serve to highlight the challenges a leader may face. It’s a no lose proposition for me.

References

Kowalski, T.J., Petersen, G., & Fusarelli, L.D., (2007). Effective Communication for School

Administrators: A Necessity in an Information Age. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Mitra, S. (2010, July). Sugata Mitra: The child-driven education. TED. Retrieved from

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education.html

Wheatley, M. (2013, March 10) Margaret Wheatley: Creating Healthy Community Change.

Changed Minds. Retrieved from http://goo.gl/sjcG2

Assignment 1.3: Journal Entry #3

April 7, 2013

 I have worked on Goal #1 and #3. Goal #2 remains a failure.

Progress on Goal #1

The context of my first goal has influenced the content of my communication. My original goal now seems ambitious and somewhat pretentious in light of my experience, so I further refined my focus to learning about the administrator’s processes and perspectives on communication about their relationship to instructional improvement in the school. I have written several guiding questions, based in concepts and language described by Kowalski (2007).

Progress on Goal #3

 A variety of small group discussions have focused on identifying how the public perceives the school. When asked why a public school that helps marginalized students actualize their potential is so little known, my colleagues cited weak advertising campaigns, unpalatable school identity, capricious course cancellations, excessive reliance on word of mouth, and inferior facilities.

Informed by Kowalski (2007) and Hite et.al. (2005), I directed one group’s attention to the school’s communication networks, which we identified as typically informal, face-to-face, and bi-directional. The group noted that these networks enable the flexibility required to personalize advocacy for individual students. A lack of communication about broader issues such as long-term school goals was seen as diverting focus from building the identity of the school. My suggestion that a decreased emphasis on egocentric network communication would help address this issue was received with interest.

It is of note that I was only able to access informal communication networks for these conversations. Although transmission in this context is efficient and allows for feedback, inclusive communication in my workplace is a constant challenge. I find myself yearning for the regular and purpose defined meetings as observed by Presthus (2006) because I see their direct link to creating “opportunities for continual professional learning… required to support educators in reconstructing their mental models and personal practical knowledge” (Hannay and Earl, 2012, p.313).

Out of these conversations there has been one concrete proposal for a revised public relations initiative. It involves reciprocal communication that inverts the usual flow of communication between schools and the Board executive.  It remains to be seen if the value of consertive action (Gronn in Presthus, 2006, p.85) will be recognized in this context. I hope that my role as a “critical friend” (Swaffield 2008) does not cause an excessive amount of disruption.

 

Reference

Kowalski, T.J., Petersen, G., & Fusarelli, L.D., (2007). Effective Communication for School

Administrators: A Necessity in an Information Age. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

 

ASSIGNMENT 1.4: Journal Entry #4

April 28, 2013

Goal #1

Enlightening discussions held with the principal of my adult education centre and with the vice-principal of a large high school on the same site have revealed more similarities than differences. I found no great difference in the modes of communication employed.  Both administrators engage in informal and formal communication as well as one-way and two-way discussions that can be symmetrical or asymmetrical. Both administrators are particularly eager to facilitate teacher expertise through informal reciprocal communication. Teachers who do not engage in reciprocal communication were identified as insufficiently reflective and associated with problematic teaching practices.

Differences were of degree only. One administrator was concerned with the danger of feedback being interpreted as harassment, while the other was more concerned with teachers who would rather complain than construct a solution. Discussions also revealed a difference in involvement, with the vice principal describing informal conversations that were linked to formal communication about issues such as school improvement goals or district professional development initiatives. In contrast, formal communication about such issues is weak in AE because it is unbalanced, revealing a need for increased formal, symmetrical, one-way communication that addresses teachers as well as administrators.

By looking at the question of professional development from a communications perspective, I have learned that the many and varied informal, reciprocal conversations about teaching expertise that I have with my principal could be strengthened by diversifying my own informal networks and by adding formal, inclusive, one-way and reciprocal communication. I will work toward this by encouraging people to join my Facebook page about andragogy and by sharing educationally relevant links by email.

GOAL # 2

In taking stock of the school’s governing committees, it has become apparent that the school employs two of the four forms of site-based management practice identified by Leithwood and Menzies (Kowalski, 2007, p.212): administrative control and professional control. The illusion of equal control is created by our principal, who often practices servant leadership and is comfortable sharing leadership. Even though the role of teachers is advisory, the culture supports collaboration and responsibility as deemed essential by White in Kowalski (2007, p.212), although it does so without significant community input. Token or absent community control in our school has prompted me to redouble my initiative to encourage the establishment of a student council and create events that invite community participation.

GOAL # 3

By and far the most fertile discussions stemming from this assignment revolved around purposes and barriers to implementing school public relations. By looking at this question from communication systems as identified by Hite and Baugh (2007), my colleagues and I identified a lack of diversity in communication at the school. We have begun to apply this new understanding to the question of why a school that is a powerhouse of change in students’ lives is so weakly represented in the community. While I cannot yet claim that goal #3 has lifted my “tribe” to the next level, I can confidently say that it is “nudging [us] forward (Logan, 2009).”

 

References

 Hite, Julie M. et.al. (2005). Multiple networks of public school administrators: An analysis of

network content and structure. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 8(2), 91-122.

Kowalski, T.J., Petersen, G., & Fusarelli, L.D., (2007). Effective Communication for School

Administrators: A Necessity in an Information Age. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Logan, D. (2009). David Logan on Tribal leadership. TED. [Video file].

 

 

 

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