Passing the Monday Morning Test
Maryland and Oklahoma Share Insights About the Ins and Outs of Program Implementation
Last month, we shared a run-through of the work by Maryland and Oklahoma to better prepare principals. When I was teaching first grade, many times I participated in professional development sessions that left me bursting with ideas and excitement but left me unsure about my ability to effectively execute what I had learned the next week in my classroom. I began thinking of this as “passing the Monday morning test.” Professional development sessions that helped me pass this Monday morning test had two commonalities: They focused on specifics and focused on process.
I think the same two factors can be applied to school districts and states as they work to develop and implement educator effectiveness policies and practices. Recently, I spoke with educator effectiveness leaders in Maryland and Oklahoma. We discussed Maryland’s Promising Principals Academy and Oklahoma’s recent involvement, examining specific elements, such as coaching and team development, and process elements, such as program adaptations and interstate collaboration.
Coaching Cohorts in Maryland
As the Maryland Department of Education’s leadership development specialist, Tom DeHart passionately believes ”coaching is the most crucial component” of Maryland’s Promising Principals Academy. The academy’s coaching pool includes successful principals, superintendents and education officials from across the state. DeHart noted how important it is to hire coaches that are both skill- and relationship-oriented, both crucial to teambuilding.
Individual cohorts are formed by each of Maryland’s 24 school districts. The districts also nominate two assistant principals per cohort who have demonstrated great leadership potential. The 48 members of the 2016-17 cohort have been split into six eight-person teams that are balanced demographically and temperamentally. (All academy participants take the DIRT inventory, a survey used to assist the formation of collaborative partnerships by probing an individual’s motivators and relationship tendencies.)
Coach and assistant principal participants convene five times per year and spend about two hours a week as part of their commitment. To sustain coaching and team development between convenings, teams meet virtually. DeHart pointed out that although it is not uncommon for participants to be promoted to a principal position during the course of their year in the academy, they typically choose to stay involved with the academy because of the program’s focus on adaptive skills and its networking potential.
DeHart believes that since July’s convening participants have been networking and bonding quicker than ever. This success may be attributed to several adaptations:
- The academy has become more proactive and more intentional about team breakouts. In addition to creating gender and ethnically balanced teams, academy organizers realize the importance of balancing teams by grade level.
- The size of teams has changed. The academy used to have eight six-person teams, but now uses six eight-person teams. DeHart noted that while he was initially worried about diluting the impact of teams and complicating coordination with transitioning to larger team sizes, the shift has been constructive for team diversity and networking.
- The academy has become more focused on “cross colonization” between teams in which convenings strike a balance between team time and cohort time. Between convenings, teams hold virtual meetings, which give participants easy access to 47 other participants they can call when needed.
Perhaps one of the most valuable parts of Maryland’s approach is transparency about how academy participants have continually adapted team development models. DeHart affirms Maryland’s willingness to be “a part of helping other states make informed, proactive decisions.”
Oklahoma’s Continuous Improvement: Practicing What We Preach
Oklahoma is one of the states Maryland is helping to make such informed, proactive decisions. Robin Anderson, Oklahoma State Department of Education’s director of teacher leader effectiveness special projects, says that creating a continuous interstate collaboration between Oklahoma and Maryland has helped adjust specifics, such as coaching and team building within Oklahoma’s version of a principals academy.
This work started after Oklahoma conducted a focus group of principals in their first to third year of leadership and found that many wanted a career pipeline and more networking opportunities. After observing Maryland’s new cohort in July, Anderson was able to make recommendations for some quick adjustments in Oklahoma:
- Oklahoma had planned to assign 20 participants to each coach, but after seeing the intimacy of the eight-person groups in Maryland, decided to replicate their approach to team size. Anderson also noted how Oklahoma was able to gain insight into the importance of forming these teams strategically.
- Oklahoma had initially planned on having a cohort size of 80, but after collaborating with Maryland, immediately adjusted this number to 48.
Adapting what had been learned from Maryland to fit Oklahoma’s context and needs also presented some challenges. While Maryland had 24 districts, making 48 participants an easy number to work with, Oklahoma has 540 districts. Oklahoma decided to prioritize its metro turnaround schools by helping principals better relate to their students. Oklahoma also reformulated Maryland’s process in other ways to better suit Oklahoma school needs:
- Oklahoma decided to allow superintendents to recommend not only assistant principals, but also first-year principals.
- Oklahoma extended its program to span 15 months.
“Seeing the steps actually happen is not the same as just hearing about it through the phone,” when it comes to interstate collaboration opportunities like this, Anderson says. Just as DeHart hoped, Anderson affirmed that these opportunities helped Oklahoma adapt implementation to fit its client, culture and state.