Two Administrators Who “Get” Teacher Leadership

“You are leaders in our school and I want you to work that into your mindset. I need you. I want you to understand the importance of what you’re doing.”  — Safford K8 IB Principal Steven Gabaldon

“You are leaders in our school and I want you to work that into your mindset. I need you. I want you to understand the importance of what you’re doing.”  — Safford K8 IB Principal Steven Gabaldon

That’s what it sounds like when an administrator addresses a team of teacher leaders in a forward looking school recovering from a singularly bad year.

And last year was bad at my school, as bad as it gets. I’ve expressed to my colleagues that we hit bottom and no one has disagreed. Recounting the causes and effects are beyond the scope of this short piece. It’s enough to say a large number of circumstances, beyond our control, brought us closer to the brink than I’ve seen in my career at Safford. As the senior member of our staff, having started there in 1987,  I know of what I speak.

But we never fell into the abyss because whatever one day threw at us, we first fought to make it to the next day.

Then, we looked ahead. 

If you’ve read The Martian by Andy Weir, you know what I mean. His astronaut, stranded on Mars, will be dealt a crisis, like the failure of several life support systems. But rather than complain and accept his imminent death, he’ll focus on the one remaining system, call it a win, and proceed to build on what remains.

Near the end of the year, conversations with colleagues always concentrated on how to share the responsibility of rebuilding our community. Never, not even one time, did Principal Steve Gabaldon and Assistant Principal Jessica Harris fail to turn to teachers to lead the rebuilding.

Before one of our last faculty meetings of the year, Mr. Gabaldon told us it’s his face he sees in the mirror and owned his failings. Then he and Ms. Harris challenged each collaborative team to search our core, define our values, and, in my paraphrase, declare what were going to make happen, no matter what, and what we wouldn’t let happen, no matter what.

To put how exceptional this is in context, my school is under a court-appointed special master’s orders to raise our test scores and alter our ethnic balance to what he deems more appropriate. If we fail to meet the special master’s targets we may lose our magnet status and a huge percent of our budget.

Yet under such extreme pressure to hit two bureaucratic data points, our administration told us to align our work with our values, not a stranger’s numbers.

Mr. Gabaldon and Ms. Harris have also provided time, compensation, and resources for teacher leaders to “incubate and execute” our own ides, which include:

  • Creating a faculty-elected council to make Safford a literacy rich school, (When the district decided it wouldn’t pay the literacy council, as we believed they would, our administration found the money within our existing budget to make good on their word.)
  • Supporting a team dedicated to take our heretofore checkered and inconsistent positive behavior system to scale,
  • Working with two math teachers (I’m one) to procure an online instruction system that we found.

Two days into the school year, with the support of two ego-free administrators who “get” teacher leadership, Safford is strong. We’re turned away from the brink and have started to climb the mountain. We’re more ready, I’d say, than we’ve ever been. And as senior staff member, I know of what I speak.

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