As our network of innovative schools has grown, we’ve come to realize that there isn’t always a plethora of resources out there to guide educators along their transformative journey. In this month’s blog, Craig Baker, principal of Swansea High School, talks about how TransformSC’s transformative leaders network came to be and how it helps TransformSC schools continue to grow and thrive.
The fruit of a simple lunch conversation between myself and TransformSC Director Peggy Torrey at the 2016 Spring Conference, the transformational leaders network is made of educators interested in supporting and reflecting on the opportunities and obstacles of transforming classrooms in each of our schools. As we discussed the different sessions that were presented at the conference, Peggy reflected on some of the feedback she had received from school visits and observations and shared an idea that she had that could better help educators along their journey through transformation. What if a network was created, within the TransformSC network, where groups of educators could visit each other’s schools and have some really rich conversations about what they saw? I was already inspired by all of the opportunities and possibilities but the idea of having this kind of support network energized me even further. Of course I wanted to be a part of this small group of school leaders TransformSC was convening to discuss what this sort of resource would look like.
I had been on several visits to other schools over the previous 2 years as we began our own transformational journey. The opportunity to meet with like-minded educators to share ideas and troubleshoot ideas is of immeasurable value to those of us doing this work.
The group of educators and leaders that were gathered was truly inspiring with their varied backgrounds and interesting perspectives. I initially felt very out of place, as many of the others had more experience and were further along in their practices. The entire group focused on learning and growing, made my opinion and input feel valued.
The original idea for innovative educators, specifically teachers, to observe other innovative schools was great, but it quickly became obvious in our discussion that experimenting with this visitation concept using the school leaders already involved would be a better way to start. This would give us an opportunity to identify areas of focus, a way to reflect on what should be considered as the group expanded and an ability to experience the process as a teacher would. We were all just obviously excited to continue to learn and wanted to be everywhere. We came to a consensus that we would pair up with like grade level partners and we would experiment with an informal visit to each others school.
I partnered with Ryan Pool, at that time he was the Principal of Lexington Middle School and I was the principal of a 9th grade-only school in Lexington School District 4, Swansea High Freshman Academy. As leaders in schools that are trying to change the experience for students, we had an immediate connection. I found the visit to Ryan’s school to be extremely inspiring. I truly felt like it gave us an opportunity to talk about things with someone from a familiar yet foreign perspective. Likewise, when Ryan came to visit my school, I felt very validated. A fresh set of eyes looking at the things we were trying to do helped to confirm that we were focusing on the things that really mattered. We have both moved on from those positions, he, to the district level and myself, to the 10-12 high school, but I like to think that we have kept a collegial relationship and still call on each other at times. I think that our experience was similar to those shared by other members and I am looking forward to expanding this network in the future.
One of the suggestions at our initial meeting was to invite another school leader with us to the follow-up meeting, someone not already a member of the TransformSC network. I think this was a very positive experience because it gave us an opportunity to gain a fresh perspective as well as share with people the “TransformSC way.”
I am anxiously awaiting our next Leadership Exchange meeting and more opportunities to see innovative things at work. To be an effective educator, whether as the leader of the classroom or the leader of a school, one must continuously engage in reflection. Reflecting both individually and as a group has helped us to continue to learn and grow.