Ebeling, Forsythe to facilitate leadership model

Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Dr. Kay Forsythe

Super-intendents across Iowa are being offered the chance to work with their colleagues in order to provide instructional leadership, as well as focus on what and how students in their school district's classrooms are learning. Another focus of the new "Iowa Superintendent Network," which is occurring statewide courtesy sponsorship by the Iowa Leadership Academy, the Wallace Foundation and Iowa's Area Education Agency system, is to train superintendents on how to support their district's teachers in the delivery of best-learning practices and opportunities for students.

Spencer Superintendent Greg Ebeling and Prairie Lakes AEA 8 Chief Administrator Dr. Kay Forsythe have elected to participate in the professional development trainings, which have occurred since last spring in Bettendorf and Des Moines, with their statewide peers.

Dr. Richard Elmore, a Harvard Graduate School of Education professor, developed the network model intended to increase the capacity of superintendents to provide leadership for improved instruction.

Greg Ebeling

"From a theory standpoint, it's based on a medical rounds model," Forsythe explained. "Really what it is is superintendents form this network and then they get together to look at the educational theory. They work with each other by going to each other's school districts and supporting each other as they're trying to implement instructional practices in their districts."

As the participating superintendents meet in different school districts, they enter classrooms and observe whatever that district's superintendent has identified as what his or her district is attempting to implement or improve via its professional development and instruction.

"It might be things like developing literacy skills or pushing kids to higher levels of thinking," Forsythe said. "As colleagues, what the superintendents do is go in and just be a whole group of sets of eyes in the classroom as they gather data on what they see. They're not passing judgment. Again, the idea is this rounds model, where they go into a variety of classrooms and start collecting data on what they're seeing related specifically to whatever the superintendent does with his or her leadership team in that district."

The data collected by the team of colleagues, in turn, is relayed to the respective district's superintendent.

"It's about improving practice," Forsythe said of the network model she and Ebeling are currently being trained to facilitate. "...And, it's really about bringing in some objective eyes to help with that whole improvement process. It also ensures that things we're trying to do with our professional development are really helping in the classroom."

Each superintendent will be given the opportunity to participate in the Prairie Lakes Network, beginning in January 2009. The first couple times the group gathers, the already-trained facilitators will tutor the new superintendents on how to observe in a classroom.

"One of the things that we, particularly as educational administrators, have a tendency to do when we go in classrooms and observe is we do that with kind of an evaluation lens on. Because that's what we often do, is evaluate teachers," Forsythe admitted. "But the point of this is not to evaluate. The point of this is, really, just to observe and describe what the teacher's doing, what the kids are doing, what the learning task is and what things are happening in the classroom."

Because Ebeling intends for Spencer to take part in upcoming superintendent visits, he will serve as a network facilitator in the neighboring Northwest AEA and vice versa. Ensuing district visits are anticipated to start in March 2009.

Forsythe and Ebeling, meanwhile, are scheduled to receive more training at a Davenport high school this week. There, they'll be observing literacy instruction.

"They're looking at trying to incorporate literacy instruction in their high school across all of their classrooms and all the different content areas. ... When we go in to do this," Forsythe said, "we'll not just look at what the teacher's doing, we'll look at the learning tasks to see if they're incorporating those literacy skills. We'll also be looking at what the kids are doing: Are they actually using the literacy skills that we know they've been teaching over time? We'll be looking for evidence of the kids using those things."

"One of the biggest challenges that we in education have, and particularly for us at the Area Education Agency, is that we do a lot of professional development," Forsythe added. "We do a lot of trying to help teachers and administrators improve all of their knowledge and skills about what has the greatest impact on student achievement and helping kids improve what they're learning and how they're learning. What we've not been able to do very well is figure out if that professional development training that we're doing is really having an impact on what happens in classrooms every day when those teachers who've been through that training go back and do their teaching. We're hoping that this will be one way that superintendents will have the opportunity to try to monitor that implementation a bit more. ... We're hoping this project will help superintendents be able to support what's happening in their districts and really get that implementation to the level that will have an impact on student achievement."

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