A Fearless School District

After countless conversations with colleagues on why blogging is so important in the education profession, I’ve decided to now throw my hat into the ring. Deciding what and when to post is still a matter to be decided but I want to highlight, as much as possible, the great work being done here at Garnet Valley, both inside the classroom and out. Having spent the last year and a half getting to know the faculty, staff, students, and community, one thing is obvious… Garnet Valley is a great school district, with outstanding and forward-thinking leaders, dedicated teachers, supportive parents, and amazing students. If I had to describe the district with one word, it would be Fearless. Fearless to be different when it needs to be different, but at the same time, fearless to stay committed to old traditions when necessary. Fearless leadership to allow defined autonomy and fearless teachers to try new ideas and approaches in the classroom.  

As a classroom teacher, instructional coach, and athletic coach for many years, I often wondered (and (sometimes vented) why people in leadership positions, including school administration, district administration, coaches, directors, and even teachers, were afraid of taking risks or trying new ideas in the classroom. As a teacher and coach, I saw firsthand the reaction when things did not work out as planned. But teachers, coaches, and other leaders should never base their next decision on the reaction from their first (assuming those decisions were made with research, planning, and thoughtfulness.)

So why are so many leaders afraid to do things differently? Why are they afraid to be great? Or at least risk being great? Why are so many coaches afraid to throw deep, or golfers afraid to go for the green in 2 on a par 5 when it’s within reach? Is it the fear of the unknown? Is it the fear of failure? Or is par just good enough for some?

I understand the fear and anxiety of something new or different. There is often no telling the outcome.  But what about those times we know the outcomes? In my experience in education, we often had concrete examples and data showing what doesn’t work well in schools and school districts. If knowing that choice A doesn’t work because of past experience, then is choice A really better than choice B? Or choices C through Z for that matter? I’ve worked in several different school districts and for many leaders (as have many others) that were presented with similar scenarios. Choice A is not working for various reasons. Attempt after attempt has been made to remedy the situation but all have failed. Given this scenario, how can choice B any worse? Faced with this choice, almost every district continues with Choice A, despite knowing that it has and will continue to fail them.

In my previous position, I’ve sat in endless committee meetings where teacher feedback on professional development begged for differentiation. Those same feedback forms offered guidance on how to effectively deliver that personalized professional development teachers yearned for. Yet, almost to a person, every administrator in that room discounted the feedback and moved forward with the same agenda for the next in-service as the previous PD day.

In my previous position, I’ve sat on scheduling committees, where our task was to look at the data and recent research, to recommend areas where we could improve overall attendance, address latenesses, and create a better schedule for staff and students. When the data (and research) pointed to later start times for our secondary buildings and early start times for our elementary buildings, the data and research wasn’t so important anymore and the schedules stayed the same.

I bring up my past experiences only to draw the distinct difference between leadership styles and actions in my current position. Having been at Garnet Valley for a short time (18 months) it is obvious that the culture and leadership style of the district administration not only fosters openness, creativity, collaboration, and innovation within the district, almost every administrator, models those same behaviors on a daily basis and most are not afraid to have difficult conversation with those staff members who may be more reluctant to adopt this educational philosophy. The end result, Garnet Valley is building a K-12 educational empire, with its foundation and philosophy set by our Superintendent of Schools, Marc Bertrando, and Assistant Superintendent of Schools, Pat Dunn, as well as other Instructional Leadership team members like Anthony Gabriele (@mrgabriele) who finally has gotten me to begin blogging about the great work being done here at Garnet Valley. And to our three Instructional Technology Specialists (@GVSD_ITS) Mike Simone, Julie Devine, and Janine Conley who have worked tirelessly this year to meet teachers where they were in terms of classroom technology and challenged them to think differently. And to outside experts like AJ Juliani (@ajjuliani) and Byron McCook (@byronmccook) who were there to lend advice and a helping hand when needed.

I’m fortunate to have the position I have here at Garnet Valley, working side by side with outstanding leaders, teachers, students, and parents. As the school year comes to an end, and the long hours of planning for the next school year begins– feeling supported, appreciated, and fearless to be creative and to try new ideas, is a nice feeling to have for once.