Tag Archives: Theodor Reik

Farina 1.0 Moving from Networks to Superintendencies, Do the “New” Superintendents Have the Skills to Lead School Districts?

Some principals are nervous, others panicky, it appears that for the first time principals are going to have a “boss.” The Chancellor has “hinted” to expect a January announcement that will empower superintendents and disempower network leaders.

Under the Bloomberg-Klein regency the school management system swung from “regions,” geographic entities with over 100 schools each; regional superintendents and local instructional superintendents closely monitored and directed schools; the ten regions replaced the 32 school districts and six high school districts. With a number of stops along the way the Department moved from Klein 1,0 through change after change to let’s call it Klein 4.0 – sixty networks (reduced to fifty-two). The networks are non-geographic affinity-based clusters of schools, about 25 per network, a network leader with instructional and operations staffs. Principals choose a network, assess the network, and, can move to another network. Principals use the network as they see fit: work closely with the network or ignore – as long as their data is acceptable. Geographic district-based superintendents are required by state law, the superintendent’s only staff member: a parent advocate. The role of the superintendent is evaluating portfolios of probationary teachers seeking tenure, making tenure decisions based on the principal recommendations, responding to parent concerns and conducting the two-day Quality Review. (See the 2014-15 Quality Review Rubric here). The network prepares schools for the Quality Review (QR) visit, commonly conducting mock visits to prepare the school for the “dog and pony” show.

What should be the role of the layer above the principal, the network leader or superintendent or whomever?

Eric Nadelstern, in a comment on an earlier blog wrote,

Principals, in consultation with teachers, parents and the students themselves, should make the important decisions. The legitimate role of the supt/district is to find the best principals available, support them, develop them, provide incentives to do good work, protect them from outside interference, and ultimately, hold them accountable for the highest levels of student performance.

I generally agree with Eric. Our problem is that for years we have simply abandoned principals. Some have thrived, others stumble and too many may not be up to the job.

In one school the principal proudly told me “our staff is totally committed to restorative justice.” Unfortunately the kids weren’t, chaos was the norm, the Tweed principal mentor shrugged: the principal was the CEO.

Another school was plagued by staff turnover, teachers kept leaving, and the principal bemoaned, “I can’t get them to buy into my vision.” Maybe the principal should visit an optometrist?

Ken, another commenter on this site, references principal after principal who don’t hold post-observation conferences, they observe the teacher the requisite number of times, enter the observation in the ADVANCE (See description of teacher evaluation system here) database, observations are viewed as compliance only.

The Department describes the teacher observation system

Advance, New York City’s new system of teacher evaluation and development, was designed to provide the City’s teachers with accurate feedback on their performance, and the support necessary to improve their practice with the goal of improved student outcomes to ensure all students graduate college and career ready.

Frequent classroom observations paired with timely, meaningful feedback and targeted support to help teachers continuously strengthen their instruction is a central feature of both the NYCDOE’s Citywide Instructional Expectations and Advance.

How often do “frequent classroom observations paired with timely, meaningful feedback and targeted support to help teachers” actually occur? And, if it doesn’t, who can make it happen?

How often do school leaders engage the teacher in discussion, a two-way discussion, about a lesson?

The Department training program is teams of principals observing a lesson and then discussing the “grade” in a facilitated discussion. A reviewer describes the requisite skills of the school leader in Charlotte Danielson’s”
Talk about Teaching: Leading Professional Conversations,”

… help[ing] school leaders understand the value of reflective, informal professional conversations in promoting a positive environment of inquiry, support, and teacher development … explains the critical function of informal professional conversations in ongoing teacher learning, Explores the interaction of power and leadership in schools [and] outlines the conversation skills that school leaders need to initiate and engage in successful conversations

The written observation report documents the actual observation, the interaction between the school leader and the teacher, the “Talk about Teaching” engages the school leader and teacher in a professional conversation, far more important than the actual report.

Eric writes the role of the school district leader is “… find the best principals available, support them, and develop them.” Supporting and developing principals is a complex skill.

We must not return to school district leaders who attempt to impose particular policies. Edward Demming, the iconic leadership guru tells us, “You cannot inspect quality into the product if it is not already there.”

If you ask a teacher to identify their network or network leader you get a shrug, teachers can identify their district. A principal, who was enthusiastic about the move to districts, told me, “My kids are going to a middle school five blocks away, I’ve never had a discussion with the middle school principal, its nuts.”

Just as effective schools have strong school cultures district cultures are equally important.

The role of the “new” superintendents, hopefully, will blend the supportive network leader with providing timely feedback to principals and building both school and district cultures that support children, families and communities.

The challenges:

* The 94 “Renewal Schools,” the schools that have been on a path to drastic redesign or closing: Superintendents will be measured by success in improving schools that have been struggling for years.

* The PROSE (innovative) and Portfolio Schools: These 100 or so schools have had wide discretion, most clustered in “friendly” networks, how will they “fit” in a geographic network with supervisory oversight?

* The “Newer” principal problem: Hundreds of principals have been basically “self-employed,” as long their data was acceptable the principals ran the school without interference; superintendents could not enter schools without prior notice or in collaboration with the network. “New” superintendents, who are the rating officer, can enter schools and ask the tough questions and believe it may actually direct principals.

* Rebuilding school cultures: Teachers (and principals) feel battered. From the White House to the Secretary of Education, from the governor to the Board of Regents, there has been an endless pillorying of teachers. The recent exchange of letters between the governor (see here) and the Chancellor (see here) is just another example of blame-placing. Superintendents have to be role models, supporting, encouraging, a cheerleader, a teacher of principals, available to teachers and communities.

In the today’s current toxic climate the new superintendents must be healers, willing to spend time in schools, not primarily observing classes (although that will occur), but meeting and listening to teachers. To use Theodor Reik’s term, “listening with the third ear,” (the practice of listening for the deeper layers of meaning in order to glean what has not been said outright. It means perceiving the emotional underpinnings conveyed when someone is speaking to you).

Schools improve not because superintendents and principals force their will on teachers; schools improve because the school community, principals, teachers and the entire school community believe they can improve the school.

Will the “new” superintendents have the skills to reinvigorate and revive schools?

The Next Chancellor: What Are the Qualities the Mayor Should Seek in the Next Chancellor?

I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.” Mark Twain

We yearn for leadership; we respect the player who leads by example, the leader who motivates through words and actions. Fifty years ago Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and led a movement, by words and actions,

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating “For Whites Only”. We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

My role model, my mentor was Al Shanker – he created a movement, a powerful and dedicated union, teachers who were willing to risk their jobs, not for money or benefits, to walk a picket line for an issue. Al through his leadership raised the job of a teacher from a powerless classroom teacher to a teacher who was part of a national movement of teachers.

Unfortunately the New York City schools have been devoid of leadership for too long. It’s been almost twenty years since the school system has been led by an educator. Joel Klein spent his first few years trying to lead, his personal coach, his speaking lessons, never were able to create an effective communicator, I listened to him on numerous occasions – the traditional “personal narrative,” (called the “I was born in a log cabin …” speech), the strolling about the stage, the reading of the incisive quote, none of which made Klein into a leader. Eventually he decided it was easier, and more comfortable to become the anti-leader. The leader of a school system reviled by those he was selected to lead.

The current chancellor is a marionette, dancing to the gyrations of the geppetto-master in Gracie Mansion.

The system has been leaderless for too long.

Before the discussion moves on to actual names the next mayor must decide the leadership qualities s/he seeks in a school district leader.

May I offer suggestions:

Healing and Building Trust:

The very word, “Tweed,” the site of department headquarters, is an invective, snarled by principals and teachers alike. A decade of teacher bashing and policy after policy that appears to belittle or ignore, or diminish the role of teachers has created a minefield between school district leadership and school-based personnel. Even well-intentioned, excellent ideas are looked upon with suspicion, the system is riven by battles – co-location, ATRs, school closings, teacher evaluation, each is not an intellectual dispute, and each is a battle in a war for survival.

The system needs a leader who can reach across the yawning abyss and offer a soothing hand, words and gestures and actions that begin to capture the attention and support of the folks “in the trenches.”

The Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan, famous for “the medium is the message,” also wrote,

“Everybody experiences far more than he understands. Yet it is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior”

The system needs a chancellor they feel they can trust to lead.

Building an Inclusive Team:

Traditionally the school system was run by those who had worked their way up through the ranks – one step at a time – for a time passing rigorous civil service exams. On one hand the slow progress through the system promoted individuals who knew the system well on the other hand by promoting from within the leadership defended an often lethargic dysfunctional system. The system seemed guided by Newton’s First Law of Motion – momentum. Why are we doing it this way? Because we’ve always done it this way!

Unfortunately the Bloomberg-Klein leadership decided to sweep away all that came before. After creating ten regions run by experienced superintendents they swept away the regions and created the current tangled web. The current leadership model values a few years at Teach for America and an MA in Public Policy more than years of on-site experience. The new leader will have to meld the two: institutional experience is an essential quality; however, being wedded to dysfunctional practices is not a desired quality. Young, dynamic, knowledgeable folk can bring new ideas to the table. The next chancellor cannot return to failed past practices, but can create a team that builds on the strengths of the past, and there were many, as well as incorporating new ideas.

“Listening with a Third Ear:”

The psychologist has to learn how one mind speaks to another beyond words and in silence. He must learn to ‘listen with a third ear.’ Theodor Reik

The next school leader must lead and listen, ofttimes the response to what one hears is the most effective form of leadership. Parents currently feel abandoned, more by the perception that city and school leadership simply don’t care. Once a month a superintendent held an open forum, anyone could come to the microphone in the auditorium and ask a question: the superintendent listened: nodded, scribbled some notes, and thanked the questioner. Sometimes a brief answer, sometimes a thank you, sometimes, ”I’ll look into it.” I asked him whether it was worth his time, “Absolutely, I get a feel for what is ‘out there,’ I get a pulse of the community.”

Responding before the issue hits the NY Post, engaging, not manipulating the media and the public. Leaders have an agenda, they cannot be tone deaf, and they cannot effectively impose an agenda that the troops or parents are ill-prepared to hear.

The Bully Pulpit:

We all want a leader who speaks for us, a leader who confronts the bad guys and stands up for the good guys. While a chancellor cannot end, or even modify the testing regimen imposed by Washington and Albany, s/he can praise the recent NY Times editorialcriticizing the over-emphasis on high stakes testing. The chancellor can testify before the city council or a congressional committee, can write op eds in the local dailies, the chancellor can espouse what most of us think. On the other hand the pulpit must be ecumenical; the chancellor has the power to impose their own views, which may be antithetical to the views of the folks in the schools, or, at least, some of the schools. When Campbell Brown accuses the union of protecting sexual predators we expect the union president to react, we’d like the chancellor to also speak out.

The school system needs a face – not an accusatory finger blaming teachers, a face praising, and chiding our enemies and speaking for us in a loud voice.

Dividing the Wheat from the Chaff:

Chancellors must take on the unpleasant task of removing teachers and principals who are not adequate to the job – expeditiously and within the law. Investigations should take weeks not months, hearing should move quickly and employees exonerated or disciplined in a timely manner. Grievances should not perk through the system for years – rather than using delay as a tactic the chancellor must understand that the timely resolution of disputes benefits the system. Currently principals know that “justice delayed is justice denied” is the theme of the administration – it may take years to get before an arbitrator. Festering disputes leave a bad taste for all involved – the discipline side of the job is best handled fairly and as quickly as possible.

A Thick Skin and a Winning Smile:

The enemies, the Eva Moskowitz crowd, the Joel Klein acolytes, the DFER minions, the next chancellor, no matter what they do will be pilloried by those are no longer in charge. Michael Bloomberg will be gone, he will be a presence in the background, and his cutouts will be protecting his image and his legacy. The next chancellor will simply have to absorb the slings and arrows and move forward. Thin-skinned chancellors bleed a lot; you have to accept the blows and the criticisms, the attacks, no matter how unfair.

I don’t know how many Jesus-Abraham-Mohammad-like individuals are waiting in the wings, how many aspirants will have the intellect, the confidence, the personality and the qualities discussed supra, the children and families, the teacher and principals deserve a leader in whom they can be proud.