I am a true believer in the power of training. I have previously written about the need for teachers to embrace this practice with a growth mindset and to get rid of any negative stigmas associated with educational training in order to realize its potential to improve our craft.
Now, I would like to consider the impact of the leader’s role in the training process.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Melvin Love, Principal of Oxmoor Valley Elementary School at Birmingham City Schools in Alabama. Share some first-hand experiences from his role as an educational leader. In our conversation, he touched on the collaborative and supportive nature of educational training, the importance of strong teams, and above all, the necessity of trust.
Venola Mason: Do you see yourself as an educational leader in your building?
Dr. Melvin Love: Sure, I do. There is the management part, which is a day-to-day process, but you also have the educational part to ensure that high-quality education is conducted in each of the classrooms. It is essential to train teachers so that they trust your leadership and want to follow you.
Everyone can be trained, even the manager – training and development happens to me every day. But as a learning leader, I must identify resource-based strategies and bring them into the classroom, making sure that the lesson is accurate where it needs to be.
When you go to class, you want to tell the teacher that this isn’t a “gotcha” moment. This is part of the training process to make you better.
Part of the educational leader’s role is to look at your school’s data—including attendance and assessments—and make informed decisions to ensure teachers meet students’ needs. You look at progress reports, grade books, and even lesson plans to provide the levels of support teachers need to take these instructions home.
How do you create acceptance with your teachers so that they accept you as an instructional leader and are open to your feedback?
The most important thing in building trust as an educational leader is that you have to have a vision – that you want your students and all of your teachers to succeed – and that vision must be implemented.
When I came to this school in 2015, our data from Alabama showed an eight percent proficiency in reading in grades three through five. So, of course, I had to have difficult conversations with the teachers in the building and then offer professional development to improve it. With this development, we have moved off the state’s failing schools list within a year and are still making progress.
I like the way you frame this: to help teachers, you have to provide vision.
Well, and it’s also important that your educational leadership team—for me, my educational coach, math coach, literacy specialist, and associate principal—is aware of this vision and your educational plan. I say to my team, “You are an extension of me.” As an educational leader, it is critical to recruit those individuals who have the pedagogical expertise necessary to be effective while providing support to teachers.
How do you and the coaches work together to set expectations for what teacher development will look like in your building?
We use our region’s priorities as a lens and strategically look at our teachers’ data to make informed decisions, and stand together for teacher training. It is important to create a constructive training atmosphere, to constantly move from development to application to innovation. I make sure our teachers understand that coaches are not administrators – they are there for coaching purposes.
You make such a good point; Teachers sometimes wonder if the principal in the class wears an administrator hat, an assessor hat, or a coach hat. How do you cross that line with your teachers?
We have our formal evaluation process, which is multifaceted and highly structured. However, we also have an informal process where we “walk” through the classroom for evidence of student participation and rigor in teaching. Using the data from these visits, we can train teachers to the top. To be clear about expectations, I will give teachers a heads up when I’m in the PA system during morning announcements about the areas I focus on at any given time.
How do you know if the training is effective?
When I go to the classroom, I see the glare on the faces of the students who are learning; When I see the “aha” moment of teachers who look at their statements and say, “Well, I think the things we’re doing are working.” When I see teachers think outside the box and do things that make students great and productive citizens of society – then I know things are working.