My journey to the dark side?

Earlier in the month, I applied to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) and the Leadership program for an administrative certificate. It’s my intention to leave classroom instruction and seek a leadership position. On Monday, I got my acceptance letter. In a move to share this decision with friends and colleagues, I posted a picture to of this letter to my Facebook and Twitter. The response from my community was really positive, and the acknowledgement received helped me to feel better about this line of decision making.

And, I’ve also taken the jab: “Traitor,” “Turncoat.”

I’ve never seen any teacher’s move to administration as turn toward the dark side, as it’s often referred to in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge kind of way. These remarks from teachers have always bothered me. They suggest that teachers hold some form of moral superiority, and continue to exacerbate the us-versus them mentality and binary thinking that is, arguably, at the root of many problems in the field of education. No one holds any kind of moral superiority in the field of education.

So, not only is this post a sharing of my decision to pursue administration and school leadership, but it’s also a chance to share why I’m taking this path. Below is the personal statement submitted to MCLA. While it was written with the program admissions panel in my mind as an audience, I think it captures my thinking at this moment in time.

Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts

Leadership Academy

Statement of Goals

Submitted by Keith J. Pedzich

The choice to obtain an administrative certification has not been a straight line, an easy path or in a timeline that falls within the neatly demarcated lines of a calendar. Instead it has been something that has developed over time. What I hope to do within this personal statement is weave together important highlights from my career as an educator with an explanation of what brings me to administration, the Leadership Academy, and what I hope to achieve.

In my role as classroom teacher, I have wanted to create students who were auto-didactic and who leave my classroom a little wiser about the world. When I started as a classroom teacher twenty years ago, I asked questions like “How do I make a dynamic learning environment for my students?” or “How do I create experiences that will bring literature to life?” and “How do I motivate resistant students?” These questions were about how to do this within an individual classroom setting. Both as a new teacher, and as I gained experience, the way that I thought about interactions were only within my classroom community.

I have been fortunate to answer the above questions in approaches such as inquiry-based instruction and the adoption and maintenance of an International Baccalaureate Diploma Program in two different schools. Over the past three years, I have worked to harness the power of blended learning through technology use. Through committees I am a part of, we adopted a district-wide Learning Management System, planned a K-12 roll-out of 1:1 devices, and wrote training curriculum. These efforts kept my practice fresh and helped me to find ways of engaging students that allowed me to facilitate instruction while simultaneously making students in control of their learning. These experiences in coordinating instructional practice began my interest in administrative work.

Goal 1: As an administrator, I hope to continue to answer questions and be a part of conversations to answer questions to drive change

 

For all the power and influence I may have as a classroom teacher and in working on committees, my reach and influence only go so far. The question I ask, frequently, is how can I take my knowledge of instruction, and leverage it for change at an organizational level. My inquiry has shifted from looking within the classroom for ways to improve student learning and achievement to looking at how to accomplish this at an organizational level.

Now the questions I ask look like this:

How do we prepare teachers to ready students for the dynamic changes they will find in the 21st century job market?

How do we get teachers to reconsider their role in the classroom when most of human knowledge can be accessed on devices someone can keep in the pocket of his or her jeans?

How do we best prepare our teachers for a shifting role in a technology-driven classroom?

How, in an age of diminishing time resources, do we maximize efficiency in our professional development program?

While I do not have all the answers to such questions, in my shift to administration I would like to engage with organizations to answer these questions.

What appeals to me about the MCLA Leadership program is the ability to have conversations in two existing worlds: With those involved in the Leadership Academy, and in my home district and school. The range of these conversations between these two worlds, I am guessing, is purposefully designed. It will allow us to learn from others in the program and within the cultures we are already a part of.

 

Goal 2: Through this program, I want to make a shift from the practice of teaching to the practice of leadership and organizational thinking

 

Attending the Leadership Academy and working through an internship next year, I might expect that I will learn things such as creating master schedules, observing teachers, and  running New York State Regents exam sessions. These are important items in which to become literate. They form the bread-and-butter of a building administrator’s tasks. In small part, I think I have begun to make the shift I describe in the goal above.

As International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Coordinator, I spend time working with administrators and teachers on issues related to implementation of this program. Working with the building principal, we have had to make decisions around course offerings, promotion and teacher workload. For me, one of the interesting things is observing the principal thinking through these decisions not only in light of what would be good for the IB program, but also how these decisions are tied to other programs and resources within our school. The complexities of the contemporary U.S. high school are many, and developing a literacy around this is intriguing and necessary. My hope is that over the year and a half in this program, I begin to develop a sense of how to prioritize the decisions leaders face.

Another experience that has brought me to consider this more deeply has been my involvement with our district’s move to a digital conversation and 1:1 devices. In a committee, we developed mission and vision statements. I have spent time on the road looking at other school 1:1 programs. We presented to faculty. We went through an evaluation and adoption of district wide use of an LMS. We retooled our professional development plan to prepare teachers to deliver this technology initiative in their classes. I worked with a team to develop training curriculum and schedule of professional development opportunities. I had to look beyond my own interest in equipping my students with devices and think about the entire K-12 population.  We have worked to do something pretty innovative–establishing a 1:1 technology program through listening to all stakeholder voices. Still, we got push back and we have those who resist and continue to use traditional methods. As a classroom teacher, I might have been able to simply turn my back on these technology resisters, close the door of my classroom and simply continue on with my passions for using technology to develop 21st-century skills in my students. However, in my role as a technology integrator, I have to consider how we bring people along in our digital conversion, and how we make sure everyone knows how to use the tools we have been given, so we can measure change. Our efforts at change and innovation need to be grounded in what we know to be true about good education–building relationships, listening and empathy, and working from what our people know. I learned that change in schools can be slow to come by.   

In going into the Leadership Academy, I am adopting a “I don’t know what I don’t know” approach. I have put aside preconceived notions about what I think administrators do, so that I might look at this work and to gain from the experience. The Leadership Academy clearly provides the opportunity through sustained mentorship and self-study.

 

Goal 3: As an administrator, work to become a more powerful and effective innovation change agent, who can balance the checkboxes of public education with the need to find new solutions to problems.

 

For the last three years, I have been thinking more deeply about schools from people such as Ira Shor, George Couros, Will Richardson, and Grant Lichtman.  These thinkers challenge traditional notions of education and are arguing for new and different approaches to creating schools. I am also interested in those thinkers who are outside of education to gain additional perspective, including Sheryl Sandberg, Adam Grant, and Sven Birkerts.

The future’s best leaders will be remixers and repurposers. We will need to look for the lessons and learnings of different industries–automotive, technological, agricultural–and how we might adopt them to make our educational organizations better at serving our communities.  

Perhaps the most decisive experience in the decision to enter administration came late in the last school year when I was the point-person for developing an end of the year professional development session for the entire faculty. While I had done this for smaller, shorter faculty meetings, I challenged myself to create a professional development experience reflecting the innovation I read about in Couros’ work paired with the choice and independence that is advocated for by Richardson. Working in a team, we developed a unique experience. In my high school, we had never done professional development at the end of the year. My work here was a culmination and synthesis of a year’s worth of work from learning about technology integration and training, to making it valuable to adults. The program was largely a success. It was here that I realized I could design experiences that combined solid learning tasks with innovative, technology-driven approaches that teachers could learn from.

My passion is learning and helping teachers get better at what they do. However, like what I did in the professional development I described above, I am motivated to find ways to blend the traditional with the innovative to meet goals. It is at the Leadership Academy that I hope to continue to develop these interests and avenues.

 

Goal 4: Grow as a professional through non-traditional certification program

 

From all of this, why the Leadership Academy at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts? I am seeking something non-traditional. While I am deeply committed to learning and intellectual advancement, I hope to seek a balance between “classroom space” in on-line environments with practical advice, guidance, and instruction from those working in my school. The administrators in my district have a wealth of knowledge from which I hope to learn from next year.

Where do I hope to land? When I look at the through-line of my career, the thread that ties it together is learning and instruction.  Whether it is my work as an IB Coordinator, my role as a Technology Integrator, my courses in blogging and new-media writing, or my presentations on personalized learning or process writing or writing to learn strategies, my interests have been in how we create classrooms that engage students in critical thinking. As someone who has valued learning throughout my career, my move to administration is not a turning away from classrooms or teaching. It is a move to assist and lead in a new way. While I remain open to exploration, positions as the Director of Professional Development or Director of Instruction are immediately on my radar.

As I alluded to in the above discussion, I am excited by the structure of the Leadership Academy. Coming from Rochester, New York, there are several, good administrative programs in the area, but I am not looking for a traditional classroom approach. It is during my time in this program that I hope to work to meet the above goals and answer the questions about which I am so passionate.