Program prepares teachers for administrative positions
Twenty-two Central Louisiana educators are fully prepared for instructional leadership positions after completing a three-year training that is designed to ultimately impact student achievement. Aspiring Leaders is a leadership institute administered by The Orchard Foundation and funded under The Rapides Foundation’s Education Initiative. The Aspiring Leaders curriculum was developed specifically for Central Louisiana by the University of Washington’s Center for Educational Leadership.
The Rapides Foundation's Education Initiative seeks to increase the level of educational attainment and achievement as the primary path to improved economic, social and health status. At the core of the initiative is its continued effort to build leaders in the field of education by offering a variety of institutes for Central Louisiana educators.
Wendy London: "For a teacher in the Aspiring Leaders program, you are going to be learning a lot about classroom practice."
“Aspiring Leaders increases the pool of educators qualified for administrative positions in their districts, which is one of the reasons superintendents recommend teachers for it,” said Marjorie Taylor, Executive Director of The Orchard Foundation. “Because the program is centered around high-quality instruction, schools and students benefit.”
The Aspiring Leaders curriculum is based on the Center for Educational Leadership’s theory of action that states, “student learning will not improve until the quality of teaching improves, and the quality of teaching will not improve until leaders understand what constitutes high-quality instruction along with the role they play in improving teacher practice.”
Aspiring Leaders graduates typically apply for its companion program, Leading for Better Instruction, after being promoted to administrative positions. In 2017, the two programs merged to form the five-year Continuum of Learning for Leadership Development and moving forward the first two years will be focused on Aspiring Leaders and the last three years will be focused on Leading for Better Instruction. The continuum allows for entry based on participant skill and experience.
In the third year of the program, sessions were held in The Rapides Foundation Building.
Wendy London, Project Director for the Center for Educational Leadership, helped design the curriculum, and she facilitated the Aspiring Leaders Class of 2017.
“The whole idea of the program and the theory of action that we have at the Center for Educational Leadership, and that The Orchard Foundation and The Rapides Foundation embrace, is that student learning is not going to improve unless teaching practice improves. We feel that principals need to not only evaluate teachers but to support them in their growth. That’s a whole different kind of leadership and that’s what we’re teaching in both Aspiring Leaders and Leading for Better Instruction. The whole five-year program is all about what do leaders do in order to create this environment where teachers improve their practice.”
The 22 participants were broken into two different cohorts after meeting as a larger group in an opening and closing session. During the first and second years, the groups met five times per year, conducting learning walks at schools, gaining an understanding of high-quality instruction, deepening their skills in classroom observation, and learning how to use data and evidence to identify trends in teaching practices. In the third year, sessions were held at The Rapides Foundation Building. “It was all classroom-based. We were reinforcing concepts from the past two years, but also introducing concepts they would be getting in Leading for Better Instruction,” London said.
Not all Aspiring Leaders graduates go directly into Leading for Better Instruction. In fact, some choose to continue teaching and then apply for Leading for Better Instruction when they take on administrative positions. Regardless of the timing, Central Louisiana schools benefit by having teacher leaders in classrooms.
“Schools where teachers continually grow and improve operate in a culture that’s like a learning environment. For a teacher in the Aspiring Leaders program, you are going to be learning a lot about classroom practice. When we learn to observe and analyze instruction, it’s all about how do I gather evidence in the classroom, how do I go in and observe and gather evidence that then I can have a conversation with the teacher and give feedback to the teacher so that they can improve their practice,” London said. “What teachers tell us is that they didn’t go into this program thinking this is going to improve me as a teacher, but what they find is that they learned about instruction in a way they had not thought about before.”
London applauded the teachers who took their time to participate in Aspiring Leaders. "Anyone who wants to have an impact that's broader than the classroom should consider this leadership program," she said.
Dione Bradford: "I appreciate the structure and the wealth of knowledge each of our instructors shared during each meeting."
Parkway Elementary School Assistant Principal Dione Bradford said her participation in Aspiring Leaders provided her with “a treasure chest of information and skills that have proven useful both while in the classroom and in an administrative seat.”
In the first year, participants studied the Louisiana Compass Teacher Performance Evaluation rubric and the CEL’s 5 Dimensions of Teaching and Learning, and they conducted walk-throughs at schools. “As a future administrator at the time, I began seeing the importance of being knowledgeable of what the teacher and students are saying and doing as it relates to instruction and learning. I recognized the impact each component has on effective teaching and student achievement,” Bradford said.
The next year, Bradford’s cohort began to deepen their understanding of targeted feedback and the power of equity. “This work seamlessly transitioned us into understanding the moves that teachers make to push thinking, engage students, and grow professionally.”
Work in the third and final year moved to an in-depth review of the previous years. “We analyzed case scenarios, linked our conclusions to equity and inquiry, and developed visions that could combat reoccurring pitfalls that many new school leaders face. I appreciate the structure and the wealth of knowledge each of our instructors shared during each meeting. I also enjoyed the use of collaboration to glean from the experiences of my peers in our cohort,” she said.
Bradford is looking forward to Leading for Better Instruction. “It has always been my desire to stay in the light of learning. Based on my experience as an aspiring leader, I trust that Leading for Better Instruction will provide the same high-quality of instruction and expertise,” she said. “I hope to get more experience in application of the practices I learn and to increase my knowledge of growth mindset and improve my skills of supporting teachers in their instructional practices.”
London said CEL staff members continuously customize trainings so that they are relevant for their audience. A training program for educators in another state, for example, may be different from one taught in Central Louisiana.
“We always use our research-based tools, but we use them side by side with what is appropriate to the local context. That just makes it much more rich and applicable. Participants don’t just learn a University of Washington curriculum,” London said. “Aspiring leaders need to understand the research base and the practical tools that are in place right now in Central Louisiana in their own districts. That’s our approach.”