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Trusting Collegial Relationships Build Strengths in Learning Systems

By Destini Martin, Michelle Pourchot, Rachel Blundell, and Kimberly Ross

Educators believe that a strong student-teacher relationship can produce positive outcomes in student achievement. We witness this in our schools on a daily basis. Students who have typically displayed problematic behaviors with engagement in learning show success within objectives due to the emotional bond they share with their teacher. Educators also believe that collaborative teaching teams are more effective than those working in isolation.

If the impact of these relationships maximizes student performance, then imagine the impact of trusting collegial relationships among school principals and the effect on an entire school system. In Santa Fe (Texas) ISD, our commitment to improve student, teacher, and school achievement became a passion that strengthened the bond, communication, and vulnerability of four district principals.

Focusing on school improvement is at the heart of every school principal. However, joining forces and solving problems as trusting professionals has allowed us to grow beyond the confines of our own school walls. Cohesive systems of support within the collegial principal network have enhanced the collective value of learning within the entire district.

How do you build trust and vulnerability among principals? As with most solid systems, the foundation begins with leadership. Our superintendent set the standard for transparency and provided the resources that allowed these relationships to build. One of these resources is the Galveston County Learning Leaders initiative. Through this work, we have been able to create our own Principal PLC from the ground up.

Thanks to powerful protocols we learned through Galveston County Learning Leaders, we confronted reality as a team. The fog began to clear, and we learned that the values we held as leaders and our vision for professional learning were similar. Our isolated work became collaborative. We made commitments to one another to work as a team to move not only our campus, but also our district in the right direction for professional learning. Through the Principal PLC, we developed commitments and norms as we formed an agreement to hold each other accountable while working toward our vision and goals.

Once we established trust, vulnerability, transparency, and accountability, we wondered how to move our team forward to make the most impact for our campuses and our district. One way was to build common language and learning designs together. The trust we had established allowed us to do this with ease because we had faith in each other and our cohesive group to build high-quality professional learning and systems. We developed our own continuous cycle of improvement that we could use individually and collectively to define what we wanted professional learning communities to look like on every campus.

We also understand the importance of deep reflective practices. We see the need to evaluate the health of our teaching teams and PLCs on each campus. To do this, we are creating a unique learning design for a principal learning walk model using the attributes of our continuous improvement cycle. Through this learning design, we will develop our reflective practice tools, embed a critical friend's protocol, and collaborate with our Principal PLC to articulate clear plans for growth.

The evolution of an effective leadership team begins with a common vision. As our own learning community continues to evolve, our desire is to transfer this learning to our students. As collaborative leaders, we have a continuing commitment to continued growth and learning for all stakeholders within the Santa Fe ISD learning community.

Destini Martin, Michelle Porchout, Rachel Blundell, and Kimberly Ross are principals in Santa Fe ISD in Texas.

The Galveston County Learning Leaders is a three-year initiative funded by a grant from Houston Endowment to Learning Forward. The goal of the project is to improve professional learning and leadership across the county by supporting Galveston County superintendents, their leadership teams, and selected principals in a community of practice and professional learning seminars. 

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