Making Professional growth a strategic priority: Guiding Principles for Transformation with Folio

Through elevating teachers and teaching and by making professional growth a strategic priority, Folio Collaborative helps school leaders drive change. This change and transformation happen as reflecting, experimenting, questioning, collaborating, and providing feedback become normal aspects of school life through the Folio platform, community, and trainings. At Folio, we think teachers are the best people in schools to help leaders drive change. We know that when teachers grow professionally, kids thrive, and schools flourish.

The most successful Folio schools we know have set a multi-year teaching and learning agenda that aligns tightly to their school’s vision and brand. They have put professional growth front-and-center, and they have not wavered in that commitment. Through internal research with hundreds of our member schools over the past eight years, and work with subject matter experts like Rob Evans, Folio has been able to identify and articulate a set of building blocks that are integral to making professional growth a strategic priority in your school. This list of building blocks could be used to either assess your school’s readiness for implementing or improving your school’s use of myFolio. Schools that effectively put these building blocks into place will be able to transform instruction and culture in their schools. 

Table of Contents: The Building Blocks of Professional Growth

 

The First Block: The Essentials

  • Time and Schedule

The Next Row: Where are you on the spectrum?

  • Culture of Feedback: Learning, Growth, and Collaboration
  • Active Engagement of School Leadership

Developing Organizational Habits: Single system to support change

  • Throughlines for Strategic Planning and Change Management Work

Structural Supports: The Details

  • Articulated Philosophy of Instruction and Pedagogy
  • Mechanisms for the Separation of Evaluative and Growth Feedback
  • Clearly Developed Roles, Descriptions, and Conditions for Human Successes

The First Block: The Essentials

The school develops an annual Folio growth process that incorporates scheduled coaching, reflection, and honest feedback.

To make professional growth a strategic priority, and to elevate teachers and teaching, School schedules and calendars must align to support this work. Feedback, collaboration, and reflection cannot be pushed into evenings, vacations, and weekends. Instead, schools that are serious about flourishing with a focus on professional growth need to work to develop a schedule and a calendar that build this work into the school day. It is essential that teachers have time to reflect, that supervisors and peers have time to observe, that there is time set aside for collaboration and conversation focused on growth, goals, and professional development. It is also best for there to be a cycle for the work built into the school year that naturally aligns with the calendar and the operations of the school. Time can be set aside at the beginning of the year for goal setting and at the end of the year for reflecting, yet time also needs to be preserved throughout the school year to maintain a focus on professional growth. School leaders can look to:

  • A weekly calendar that sets aside time for both structured and unstructured faculty collaboration
  • A plan and cycle for faculty meetings that includes professional development focused on pedagogy
  • Teaching and supervising ratios that allow for time for sufficient dedication to the work (Supervisors are assigned a group of faculty at a ratio low enough to take the time for observation and conversation; Faculty teaching responsibilities provide time for planning, collaboration, peer to peer observation, and reflection)

This feels like a good place to provide a link to the MANY resources out there about schedule development (OSH has gathered a lot of these, but there might be good Folio resources on schedule or Folio schools with exemplary schedules?)

The Next Row: Where are you on the spectrum?

Once the foundational building block of time and schedule is set into place, the school can now turn to the ways that the school culture and leadership can support the effective use of Folio. Schools can look at these two pillars as critical to success and assess where they currently fall on the spectrum for each principle. There is not a black and white, have or not have, for either of these blocks. Looking toward cultivating a culture of feedback and maintaining it through the active engagement of school leadership is a place where schools can take a moment to assess and to celebrate where they are right now while simultaneously looking to grow. These two blocks are composed of multiple substeps and corollaries that contribute to their overall success. Each of these building blocks represents a way for schools to lean into a growth culture.

Culture of Feedback–

The school fosters a genuine culture of learning, growth, and collaboration.

Schools that are ready to elevate teachers and teaching are schools that demonstrate through policy, structure, and action a focus on learning, growth, and collaboration. Strong collaborative cultures do not spontaneously appear, nor do they run on “autopilot” on those rare occasions when an organization successfully builds such a culture. Leaders must create scaffolds to systematize the behaviors and routines of effective collaboration, and must nurture and feed the ways of being that enhance the collaborative dynamic within a school. It is necessary to take a strategic and design-oriented view towards inculcating values and behaviors like trust, inclusion, psychological safety, vulnerability, growth-orientation, risk-taking, the embrace of creative tension, and graceful giving and receiving of feedback. This focus is turned toward all of the individuals in the building, not just the students. These schools visibly support teachers in taking risks to improve their practice, and they foster a culture of growth-focused feedback. Sometimes, challenging feedback is an essential part of growth, and a successful Folio school incorporates difficult conversations into its feedback cycle. Individuals throughout the school acknowledge and celebrate a school culture that embraces learning and growth. 

These corollary statements each contribute to the growth of a culture built around feedback. Schools can assess where they stand on each one, celebrate that place, and look toward growth.

  • Risk taking is encouraged and modeled for faculty
  • Feedback conversations incorporate difficult or challenging feedback
  • Faculty would all reflect that the school has a culture focused on teacher growth
  • What are the other qualities of successful Folio school CULTURES that could go here in this list?

Active Engagement of School Leadership–

The Head of School and other school leaders demonstrate active engagement with Folio’s use and implementation.

Schools that are successful with Folio commit to putting professional growth front-and-center and making goal-setting and reflection a part of each individual’s practice. The most successful schools are those that model and support this work from the Head of School outward to the full faculty and staff. If the Head of School is not the direct Folio leader in the institution, the Head of School and that administrator, the Folio Lead, should be in regular discussion about how Folio implementation work is moving through the school. It should be clear to all faculty and staff that the Head of School and the Folio Lead are aligned in their support of Folio’s practices.

These corollary statements each contribute to the active engagement of school leadership. Schools can assess where they stand on each one, celebrate that place, and look toward growth.

  • All school leaders/administrators set and share annual goals with faculty
  • Head of School’s sponsorship and sanction of Folio is clear to all members of the community
  • Goal setting and reflection are incorporated into the work at all levels of the school

Developing Organizational Habits: Throughlines for Change Management

Schools that have set aside time to focus on teacher growth and development, that have deliberately considered their school cultures around feedback, and that have assessed the engagement of school leadership with the work are ready to turn toward their organizational habits. Schools that are successful in their use of Folio, schools that make professional growth a strategic priority, recognize that Folio does not exist as an add-on tool that generates extra work for the faculty. For Folio adoption to be successful, Folio needs to be used as a support change management and strategic initiatives throughout the school.

Single System to Support Change–

Folio exists as a throughline for all strategic initiatives and priorities in the school to turn strategy into practice.

Schools that are most successful with Folio use it as a tool to generate traction and transformation around all strategic initiatives. This happens when faculty and staff are guided to set goals aligned to the school’s strategic direction, and this allows observations, conversations, and reflections that occur during the Folio process to be key drivers in shifting teacher practice towards the school’s strategic vision. Changing teacher practice through growth is one of the only effective ways to create school transformation, so Folio should be considered a central tool in a change management process, rather than a parallel process divorced from the school’s efforts to further its vision. Folio and reflection work can not feel like an add-on to the already busy life of the faculty, but rather Folio exists to support and document the work and growth-oriented conversations that are already happening. 

The bullet points here are maybe examples of how this works within Folio?

Structural Supports: The Details

Schools that are ready to successfully adopt Folio and embrace professional growth as a strategic priority must be ready to pay attention to the details. With a few explicit shifts and clearly articulated sets of expectations, these schools have the structural supports in place to focus their attention and energy on teaching and professional growth.

Articulated Philosophy of Instruction–

The school has a clear philosophy of instruction — articulated characteristics of teaching excellence — that prioritizes pedagogy.

A focus on professional growth starts with a school’s articulation of a philosophy of instruction as aspirational expectations grounded in the practice of pedagogy. This document is a broadly shared understanding, within the context of a school, that highlights how children learn, what and how they are taught, and what outcomes are desired as a result of a specific sequence of learnings. To focus on both learning and outcomes is to put the focus on both the practice of pedagogy in the classroom and the design of an assessment to show how students have learned. More focused than a philosophy of education, a philosophy of instruction provides a means for an institution to define excellent teaching practice. A guiding philosophy of instruction creates a foundation for school-wide professional development opportunities focused on pedagogy and conversations around the practices that both lead to and support quality teaching. This is in contrast to schools where professional development is often focused solely on curriculum or individually chosen events. A school’s focus in creating a philosophy of instruction can shape professional growth discussions around teaching practices. When teachers grow professionally, kids thrive and schools flourish.

  • Is there a Folio school that has a written statement that is its “Philosophy of Instruction”? Can that be shared here as a demonstration?

Mechanisms for the Separation of Evaluative and Growth Feedback–

The school has a defined and separate process for evaluation and corrective action.

The school should have a document that outlines its basic expectations for teachers and a structure in place to support teachers in achieving these expectations. A school’s use of Folio is focused on growth and support; Folio is not a tool for corrective action when a teacher is failing to meet basic standards of professionalism or practice. The school needs to define systems and protocols for separate interventions, depending on the goal of the interaction. When the conversation turns toward corrective action, that discussion needs to involve both administration and the school’s human resource professionals. 

Clearly Developed Roles, Descriptions, and Conditions for Human Successes–

The school designs conditions for growth coaches and supervisors to succeed.

Schools need to provide growth coaches, Folio Leads, and supervisors with the time, training, and tools to be successful in their roles. The daily and weekly schedule should provide time for coaches and teachers to prioritize a focus on goals, collaboration, and professional development. A written role description needs to clearly articulate the expectations for supervising work. Additionally, growth coaches should have both access to professional development to support their work and a mindfully assigned group of faculty to supervise at a sufficiently low ratio to allow for thorough observation, conversation, and reflection. There is also significant support for growth conversations that happen throughout the school: peer to peer, colleague to colleague, supervisor to teacher, and conditions and culture foster these conversations and dialogue.

In conclusion:

At Folio, our Collaborative rests at the intersection of community, platform, and training. We know that the best way for school leaders to start driving change is by prioritizing growth because when teachers grow, kids grow too — and schools flourish. Our community is one where schools live into their missions and generously share their wisdom and experiences. These building blocks can provide an opportunity for self-assessment: which foundational building block do you want to lean into next year? As schools decide where they want to turn their focus and attention, Folio is here to support that step. This support happens through connections within our Collaborative community, through training with Folio staff, and through a technology platform that ensures professional growth is both visible to leaders and validated by peers. Teachers need attention, space for conversation, feedback, and time for self-reflection. Folio can help schools move further along as they assess where they stand on these foundational building blocks. Together, we can make professional growth a strategic priority.

Appendix:

Building Block: Look for:
The Essentials:

The First Block

The school develops an annual Folio growth process that incorporates scheduled coaching, reflection, and honest feedback.
  • Time and schedule indicate the prioritization that the school puts on a cycle of feedback and growth
  • The operations and structure of the school supports a Folio cycle
  • The schedule builds in time for collaboration, reflection, and feedback
The Next Row: Where are YOU on the Spectrum The school fosters a genuine culture of learning, growth, and collaboration.
  • All individuals in the school would report the school as a place the supports collaboration and growth
  • The school builds in a practice of intentional, positive feedback
  • The school is a place where feedback is given, received, and shared regularly and at all levels
  • Sometimes conversations include sharing challenging feedback
  • The school is a place where conversations about growth happen and are modeled
  • Risk-taking is modeled and encouraged
The Next Row: Where are YOU on the Spectrum The Head of School and other school leaders demonstrate active engagement with Folio’s use and implementation.
  • HoS and Folio Lead meet regularly to discuss Folio and teaching
  • HoS models goal setting and reflective practice (perhaps HoS shows Folio goals page in an opening faculty meeting)
  • Professional growth discussions are modeled and practiced at faculty meetings
  • It is clear that HoS and Folio Lead are aligned in support of Folio’s practices
Developing Habits: Single System to Support Change Folio exists as a throughline for all strategic initiatives and priorities in the school to turn strategy into practice.
  • The school’s strategic initiatives are tied into individual goal setting in Folio
  • Folio does not feel like an “add-on” in the busy life of the faculty
  • Folio documents and supports growth-oriented conversations that are already happening in the school
Structural Supports: The Details The school has a clear philosophy of instruction — articulated characteristics of teaching excellence — that prioritizes pedagogy.
  • Philosophy of instruction articulates standards of excellent teaching
  • Philosophy of instruction becomes a backbone for school-wide professional development
  • This document focuses on pedagogy, not curriculum
Structural Supports: The Details The school has a defined and separate process for evaluation and corrective action.
  • Evaluation process is lead by school administrators
  • Corrective process is lead by a combination of HR and school administration
  • School has articulated basic standards of professionalism and teaching practice
  • Corrective action is separate from a school’s use of Folio
Structural Supports: The Details The school designs conditions for growth coaches and supervisors to succeed.
  • Time built into the schedule for growth coaching
  • Manageable ratios of supervised faculty
  • Professional development support for growth coaching
  • A written role description for growth coaches
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