Instructional Leadership With a Soft Touch
Live From NSDC, St. Louis-- I didn't get to attend the Michael Fullan session yesterday, but a lot of people were talking about it, and I was interested to read Nancy's description of his emphasis on "broad goals" and cultural change as opposed to a fixation on detailed outcomes. Variations on this idea have popped up in several sessions I've attended--often enough that I think it could be designated as one theme of the conference.
At a session I attended yesterday on instructional leadership, for example, author and University of Minnesota professor Karen Seashore Louis emphasized the importance of making "soft improvements" in a school's culture. By this, she meant attending to relationships within a school, helping staff understand the forces and conditions shaping learning and curriculum goals, creating an environment of trust and collaboration, and "consistently checking that aspirations for change are understood." Louis said that her research--which involved a study of (I think) 36 districts--shows that principals who create these kinds of changes in schools (alas, they are few in number) actually have the greatest impact on instruction and (ultimately) student achievement. Improving school culture, she said, "affects how people feel, but also student learning." It's not just Kumbaya stuff, in other words.
As food for thought, Louis also played the following video, asking attendees to consider what, in their own institutions, is standing in the way of the sort instructional change envisioned: