Welcome to Ms. Waugh's Class Blog

Welcome students, parents, and colleagues. Thank you for visiting my blog. This blog I have designed to introduce myself and inform you about what is going on in my classes. Currently, I teach ELD inclusion for grades 6.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Developing School Culture Norms

C. Mae Waugh
Aspiring Leaders Academy
Framingham Public Schools

            In the first few weeks of school, I always do a brief word study on the word “advocate” with my ELL students. We dissect the word for meaning, by analyzing its word parts. We discuss the Latin root voc, meaning “voice” or “to call.” We identify the prefix ad, meaning “toward,” indicating direction, tendency or addition. And we recognize the suffix “-ate,” which makes the word both an adjective and a verb. I teach the students how to pronounce the word with an emphasis on the o to make it an adjective and an emphasis on the a to make it a verb. And then we come up with a class definition for it together (someone who speaks up for himself or others/ to speak up) and add it to the word wall. I do this lesson for two reasons—one, to model how to use word parts to learn new words and two, to begin our year-long journey to become advocates for ourselves and one another. For as Dewey discerned, schools are not only responsible for the intellectual learning, but also for helping students learn social and moral principles that allow them to become independent thinkers, lifelong learners and productive citizens capable of sustaining democratic life.
            So when Dr. Irwin Blumer asked us to reflect upon why we wanted to become a leader, to advocate was my initial response. I seek to advocate for my population—it is a group that cannot always speak for itself, but they are the backbone of our nation and its future. Immigrants are the living, thriving, continuation of what this country was built upon and as a leader I would like to build understanding and relationship that transcends language, culture and background.
In order to refine our definition of leader, we discussed the difference between a good leader and a great leader. According to Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu, “The wicked leader is he who the people despise. The good leader is he who the people revere. The great leader is he who the people say ‘We did it ourselves.’” Immediately I connected the last line to the classroom and what makes a good teacher. A successful teacher releases responsibility so that ultimately the students succeed without him or her. In the same way, building personal investment and community among a staff makes them the constituents, working hard for its success. This idea is echoed in the article “Organizational Learning in Schools and School Systems: Improving Learning, Teaching and Leading” Theory into Practice 2006. It states, “When all members may lead and exert professional influence over school and work decisions, individuality and communality are enhanced” (Collins et al 111). In order to create investment among the staff, the leader must also develop a strong community and culture.
But what is culture? Dr. Blumer challenged us to define culture ourselves. To me, culture is a set of beliefs and commonalities shared by a group of people. Values are intricately woven with culture, so to determine and formulate a school culture, we must have clear values. Dr. Blumer posed the question, “How does one know if a value is really a value?” His answers: it permeates the organization, it drives the decisions and there’s a strong reaction when it is violated. The concept of values is not new, but how many people actually understand and internalize the values within their school building? Our school values are Respect, Responsibility, Results and staff and students can parrot the alliteration when prompted, but do they practice this triad everyday in every situation? I could list evidence for the affirmative and the negative.
Collinson et all list the vital components for cognitive change and dissemination of learning: principal involvement, regular dialogue, encouraging teachers, providing common planning time, encouraging collaborative work and “fostering positive norms of continuous improvement of teaching instead of blaming a lack of student learning on external factors such as society or parents” (110). In the article “Good Seeds Grow in Strong Cultures,” published in Educational Leadership, 1985, authors Jon Saphire and Matthew King present the vital components in a list form “The Cultural Norms that Affect School Improvement” and Dr. Blumer renames them as “12 Patterns of Behavior and what they get us…” Whatever their name, these 12 items are norms and values that when integrated into a school, can make a huge difference in the ability of school improvement activities to have a lasting effect. Through strong leadership, leaders instill them and teachers must also commit to them, but then culture can grow and endure.
1.      Collegiality
2.      Experimentation
3.      Reaching Out to the Knowledge Base
4.      Appreciation and Recognition
5.      Caring, Celebration and Humor
6.      Traditions
7.      High Expectations
8.      Protecting What’s Important
9.      Tangible Support
10.  Respect and Confidence
11.  Involvement in Decision-Making
12.  Honest, Open Communication
Due to time constraints, we focused on #1, collegiality, which makes sense because the adults in a building are the models for the students. Saphier and King cite Barth 1984, and explain “the nature of the relationships among the adults who inhabit a school has more to do with the school’s quality and character, and with the accomplishment of its pupils, than any other factor.” (69) Therefore fostering collegiality nurtures the values amongst the adults so that they can instill them in the youth. 
Collegiality pushes teachers to keep learning and energizes and accelerates their growth in insight and skillfulness, according to Dr. Blumer. It includes communication, collaboration, observation, feedback, preparation and teachers teaching each other. Ultimately, it entails and deepens the trust among a staff so that there is a culture of support and inquiry. In the research of Saphier and King, their teacher respondents said, “I wasn’t afraid to bring it up because I know people here are on my side” and “In this school we resist the notion that teaching is [a] private activity.” (68)
Saphier and King characterize an academically effective school by its “structure, process and climate of values and norms that channel staff and students in the direction of successful teaching and learning” (67) Both the readings and Dr. Blumer made it clear that the tenant of leadership is developing a strong culture and sense of values and norms. And “Good Seeds Grow in Strong Cultures” closes with the directive:  “If we are serious about school improvement and about attracting and retaining talented people to school careers, then our highest priority should be to maintain reward structures that nurture adult growth and sustain the school as an attractive workplace.” (74) Although the authors penned this advice nearly 30 years ago, more recently published, Collinson et al reiterates the idea of remaining current and revising norms and theories oftent, “Organizational learning involved changing the theories of action, either by refining them or by questioning shared assumptions and norms to reach new theories-in-use.” (109).
A strong sense of self and discernment of one’s own values is imperative. According to Dr. Blumer, as a leader, “If you don't know who you are or what you believe, you can't be effective.” So he challenged us to discern what are our core values, how do we know and how do others know. After much introspection, I’ve developed three draft values: growing is hard and that’s okay, everyone has potential for greatness and Listen, Reflect, Respond. I call these drafts because I am still thinking about what they mean to me as a leader, educator and citizen. I know these are ideals I value because I believe life is not easy, but the challenge can be rewarding. I believe that growing can be painful, but without it, people are stagnant and one-dimensional. I believe different is okay, diversity builds understanding and congeniality and that everyone should be bilingual. I seek to inspire others, ask questions and rephrase and reflect upon professional and personal experiences, not so that I don’t make mistakes, but so that I make no mistake twice. It is my hope that through my lessons, leadership and actions, I demonstrate my values to others. I set high expectations for my students by giving challenging yet attainable work. I listen to others and reflect on lessons and conversations and try to change my behavior or practice following reflection. I approach others deliberately and thoughtfully and choose my actions and words in a meaningful way. I also value revision, so as I progress as a leader, I want to hold fast to these values, but allow them also to be fluid and deepened through every learning experience I encounter.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Surviving a Survival Situation

C. Mae Waugh
March 2014
Aspiring Leadership Academy
Framingham Public Schools
Surviving a Survival Situation
If my plane had crashed in the desert on a day that would reach 130 degrees Fahrenheit, even with the 15 salvageable items, I would not have survived alone. Before this simulation, I did not know the value of a raincoat in the desert, the multiple purposes of a compact mirror, and that the bottle of salt tablets was actually the red herring. On my own, I was 65 points off from the expert’s recommendations. Therefore, if I am ever on a plane that crashes, I would want Lori, Cynthia, Christine, Juliana, and Gabriella there with me! Then, they would be able to convince me to not walk in the desert through the night to the mining camp 65 miles away, and I could convince them that a parachute is actually very valuable once you are already on the ground. Our group was a model of synergistic problem-solving, proving that working together gave us a 14% better chance of surviving. Unfortunately, with a team score of a 56 variance, we would have all still perished, albeit together.
Besides learning that I need to carry my compact mirror with me everywhere, the simulation proved the proverb, “Two heads are better than one.” Even with no emergency survival experts in our group, the opportunity to discuss, debate and collaborate greatly increased our chance for survival in the simulation, and stands as a lesson for our survival as leaders. All of the six groups successfully achieved “synergy,” which occurs when the “interactive efforts of two or more people have a greater impact than the sum of their independent efforts.”
I had heard the term synergy before, but had never seen it modeled in such a poignant way. It is a process through which the dynamics that individuals bring to the group help build constructive consensus and is a model of collaboration. The back of the participant’s booklet provides a diagram of what constitutes effective solutions. In order for a group to have synergy, participants must demonstrate four items: 1. Humanistic-Encouraging, 2. Affiliative, 11. Achievement, and 12. Self-Actualizing. In our group, not one single leader arose, but instead we each gave the other members an opportunity to speak and defend their perspectives. The healthy back-and-forth allowed us to convince each other in a respectful way and revise our original responses. This met item #1, “Members are constructive, sensitive, and supportive of one another.” And despite that we were withering in the desert, we “remained friendly, cooperative and relaxed,” item #2.
The only problem is that no matter how successful a simulation is, it is still a simulation. And while we can mimic synergy in an afternoon reproduction of a plane crash, how do we transfer these skills into the school? One reason we were so open to collaboration in the desert, was that none of our group members knew anything about emergency survival. We had a few ideas, like the parachute could be used as a visual target and give us a shady respite from the sun, but overall we were stakeholders in survival in general, not married to the specific items on the list. However in staff meetings, each participant lobbies for their constituents--their students or staff, for whom they are very emotionally and professionally invested. Where everyone is an expert there is enthusiasm and concern, but it is more difficult to maintain the cooperative atmosphere. In our staff meetings and grade-level meetings a “norm” that is always included is “assume positive intent,” but often destructive styles of Competitive, Power and Oppositional arise. Therefore it is not surprising when the outcome is an ineffective situation.
The feat of a leader is to channel all of this energy into something productive. In order to create an effective solution, participants must produce a balance between quality and acceptance that incorporates rational skills and processes, task skills knowledge resources and interpersonal skills and processes. For synergy to occur, not only does each group member need proficiency in thinking through problems to solutions, he or she also needs to be able to do so while listening and supporting the perspectives of others to reach a consensus.
What I find missing in this Synergistic Problem-Solving Model and in many grade-level and staff meetings gone awry is trust. While perhaps implied in the model diagram, without a baseline of trust among a group, it is nearly impossible to achieve an effective solution. Professionals must trust that their counterparts are all striving for consensus and supportive. With trust, participants are willing to compromise and cooperate. As an aspiring leader, I hope to broaden my strategies for building and fostering trust among a staff, through experiences such as this simulation.

What Makes a Leader?

C. Mae Waugh
Aspiring Leadership Academy
Framingham Public Schools
March 12, 2014

                Teachers are innate leaders, for they lead students everyday in the journey of learning. While I haven’t been the leader of every single activity like Mr. Barry Jentz (class president, football captain, CEO), I have felt predisposed for leadership and I found his council quite compelling. He was a dynamic, candid, and genuine consultant, with anecdotes that were apropos and enlightening and I liked the interactive format of the lecture-turned discussion.
What rang most true with me was how he advised us to placate those who disagree with our decisions, because inevitably, there will always be people who are dissatisfied with the verdicts of the leadership. Obviously, one person cannot appease everyone on staff, but the way to make people valued is to actually listen to them. A leader does not have to agree with each operative, but she must validate them as contributors. According to Mr. Jentz, a good leader is not one who delegates decisions, but educates herself by connecting with each involved party in order to develop an educated view of the situation. In the classroom, we teach the students to paraphrase texts and their partners, but how often do we as adults actually paraphrase each other? Instead, conversations are competitions for air time. In order to be an admirable leader, we must first learn how to listen and then how to respond.
Mr. Jentz shared a story to illustrate how an exceptional leader manages a catastrophe: by communicating to learn and admitting that he or she does not have the answer always and immediately, but by researching solutions and gaining knowledge from invested parties, he or she can deduce a course of action. In his article, “First Time in a Position of Authority” he phrases it this way: “It’s critical to your success at the outset that you commit yourself to learning how to communicate to learn, as opposed to communicate simply to persuade, direct, or inform.”
What struck me as I read his article before the lecture was his section explaining the continuum of being too authoritative or too collaborative. I think about neophyte leaders with whom I have worked or been in contact and I can identify their exact places on the continuum. Some are far too collaborative and therefore lose authority, while others are so authoritative, their employees don’t feel like their opinions are heard. But what I never conceded was the idea that leaders who act this way are actually “blind” to the discrepancies between their professed and actual practice. Shortsightedly, I have judged them. Therefore, Jentz recommended finding a colleague who could double as an evaluator—someone who could step back and give you true feedback about the way in which you are truly representing yourself to the staff.
With refreshing honestly, Mr. Jentz spoke with us regarding the challenges and difficulties of first time-leaders. Those who become leaders often aspire due to their strong interpersonal skills, but according to Jentz, true leaders thrive when they become intrapersonal.  He said in his article and reiterated in his lecture: “The task is onerous because you’ll inevitably be thrown back on yourself as never before and experience a heightened questioning of how much of what is going on is ‘me’ and how much is ‘them responding to my role’ or the ‘situation.’”
The solution? In the article, Mr. Jentz writes, “So you’ll need to look inward and take on the task of discovering and changing your attitude toward confusion so that you experience it not as a liability but as a resource, as a starting place for personal and organizational learning.” In the lecture, he surmised the advice concisely in one word: therapy. That was a concept that had never crossed my mind—that leaders need therapy, but it reminds me of a study I read while I was in college.  “Avoidance behavior and the development of gastroduodenal ulcers” Brady et al (1958) is an often-cited study on stress in primates, in which rhesus monkeys were endowed with the ability to control whether they received electric shocks. T those with the control developed more ulcers than those monkeys who passively received the shocks, illustrating how leaders suffer from executive stress syndrome. Now we as aspiring leaders will not face that particular scenario, but we will struggle with the dynamics of authority, as Mr. Jentz presents. Although we may feel the same as yesterday, our place in the hierarchy has changed, and therefore so have we, and as soon as we reconcile this difference, we can harness it and not have it harness us.