Schools principals and administrators have seldom felt more pressure to improve teaching and learning than in our current environment. Wayne Ogden, former superintendent and principal, is widely known and esteemed for his work on the mentoring of new leaders and his skills and commitment to the practice of instructional leadership. He was interviewed for this edition by Dr. Larry Myatt.
LM- Wayne, “The Skillful Leader”, which you co-authored more than a decade ago, remains an incredibly popular and useful tool for school leaders. Can you say why you think that is the case?
WO- Larry, my co-authors I have been surprised and pleased that The Skillful Leader: Confronting Mediocre Teaching has remained relevant and helpful. I believe that its success and staying power comes because school principals find it immediately useful in their supervisory efforts by providing a clear focus --to provide students with better instruction. Interestingly, we predicted that mediocre instruction would persist unless supervisors and teachers jointly understand and pay rapt attention to the connection between their efforts and student learning. Only in the last few years has this topic actually made it onto the national radar, driven in large part by the “all-kids agenda” and the ossification of so much of the school model.
LM- What’s new in terms of the context of instructional practice? What dilemmas or challenges should we be paying attention to?
WO- What’s new in some contexts is the challenge of linking our traditional supervisory practices to the demands that student performance data be included in the comprehensive performance appraisal of our teachers and principals. Policy makers, school board members, and school reform advocates all seem to be demanding accountability measures that recognize the direct connection between teacher performance and student learning. But, I do not know that anyone has figured out yet how to understand and manage the many complexities of the process.
LM- So, what are the implications for talent recognition, development, retention, etc.? And can we find time to do those things seriously, including deep mentoring, with the current distractions, budget constraints, and fewer staff?
WO- The implications are huge and made enormously more difficult by our struggling economy. While I’ll happily leave the economic dilemma to the folks in Washington, DC, I do have some thoughts about reshaping how aspiring teachers and principals come through the training and talent pipeline. And, while I do think it will require some open minds as well as open wallets to accomplish some of what I suggest, I don’t think this is rocket science. The folks who long ago decided how best to train our nation’s physicians and plumbers concluded that disciplined academic study needed to be combined with extensive supervised apprenticeship experiences in order to produce capable beginning physicians and plumbers who could successfully “hit the ground running” in their professions. Yet, despite all the other changes in public school education, we continue to think we can prepare the majority of our beginning teachers by grafting on an undergraduate degree a three-month student teaching experience much of which is spent merely watching.
And on the leadership side, a high percentage of aspiring principals can now get their administrative license by adding on some graduate school credits and an administrative apprenticeship that is even shorter and less intense than that of our student teachers. This type of teacher and administrator preparation has never been adequate, and in today’s complex world of public education it is virtually useless.
Aspiring teachers and administrators both need year-long, supervised apprenticeships in places that combine the status and prestige of our nation’s best teaching hospitals. Master teachers and principals must closely monitor and critique the work of these aspiring educators. Learning how to become a great teacher or principal is not part- time work. It should be highly focused--the only thing these aspiring educators are doing-- while they learn their craft. Then, in their first year on the job with our children, they need to be mentored and coached the way we hope that our beginning heart surgeon or master plumber was trained and coached!
Yes, this will be expensive and a much bigger commitment than it ever has been before. Aspiring teachers and principals will need to commit to longer and more costly training. School districts will need to create mentoring and coaching positions to help nurture and perfect their new hires. Universities will have to put the same type of commitment and resources into training our teachers and principals as their importance requires. Most of their training programs will need to be totally redesigned. Our states will have to figure out ways to compensate teachers and principals at levels that reflect the length and cost of their preparation.
LM- Wayne, thanks so much for your thoughts here. To conclude, will you comment on where you do and/or don’t see value added in some of the things we’re doing in leadership development, especially in the principal training and licensure arena, and district-based programs?
WO- Over the last few years, most State Departments of Education have tried to make it easier for people to become teachers and principals. Provisional educator licenses have been granted to adults who have a college degree and can pass some kind of state exam. These teacher and principal licensure requirements generally include no serious apprenticeship or formal training in teaching or in leading. That is simply nuts! At the same time, in an effort to meet the needs for training more new teachers and administrators, to replace the retiring baby boomers, State DOE’s have approved what I call “licensure light” programs that thrive on quick and simple training regimens that meet the barest minimum of the skills and knowledge necessary to be competent teachers and principals.
In-district leadership programs continue to appear and disappear as they have for three decades. They use a master set of recognizable readings and exercises but, as you and I have repeatedly seen in our work together, without excellent facilitation, outside provocation and critical friendship, and a willingness to challenge in-district orthodoxy, norms, and “coziness”, these programs routinely fall short of generating outstanding leaders.
Thanks for inviting me to comment and I look forward to being part of ERC initiative to restore faith in front-line educators to lead the change in our schools!