Tell Me So I Can Grow: Fall 2017 Leadership Summit Reflections

November 17, 2017

Jen Benkovitz, NTN Dir. of School Leadership

At New Tech Network’s Fall Leadership Summit in Cleveland, Ohio, more than 170 district, school and classroom leaders from across our network joined together to explore the concept of feedback for growth.

Pre-Summit sessions offered participants the opportunity to get an early look at New Tech tools that are still in development (Hierarchy Diagnostic Tool, Design Pillars Self-Assessment, and Spectrum of School Development) and to offer NTN staff their feedback for how to make the tools more accessible and user-friendly for our network. Participants also had the opportunity to attend a variety of Echo Sessions and Leadership Dens to learn about and reflect upon best practices happening across our network as they relate to using feedback as a tool for improving teaching and learning. Finally, our new leaders came back together to to re-connect with one another, to reflect on their practice,  and to hear from one of our second year leaders, Ryan Hansen-Vera from Lobo School of Innovation who joined us via Google Hangout from her NTN school in California! All in all, these experiences provided a great kickoff before the big day.

On Thursday, Lydia Dobyns, NTN President and CEO,  picked things up right where we left off the day before by engaging in an informal fireside chat with Eric Gordon, the Superintendent of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District who shared several anecdotes related to leading a learning organization through the ebb and flow of inevitable challenges that accompany change. Superintendent Gordon also reflected on various ways that feedback informed his leadership and strengthened his connections with the broader school community.  Following this thought provoking fireside chat, I shared a short video with everyone that used humor to emphasize the human element of exchanging feedback and also provided a reference point throughout the day as participants were often reminded that feedback requires active listening, an expression of empathy and a genuine desire to better understand one another. One of our participants, Brady Mullett, Principal of Eagle Tech Academy, summed up this message perfectly when he later proclaimed that “Feedback is about making an investment in people.”

Throughout the day on Thursday, participants explored this driving question that centered our work: “What does it look, sound and feel like to lead a learning organization where feedback for growth plays a key role in developing and sustaining an equitable culture of learning?” Using a variety of protocols from School Reform Initiative to support our learning about feedback, we explored various texts including a case study of Collinwood High School, one of our network schools in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (see below).

We utilized a What/So What/Now What reflection tool throughout the day in order for participants’ to capture their new learning, to analyze their current culture and feedback practices, and to begin developing next steps. Participants learned about the role of adult developmental theory in giving and receiving feedback, co-constructed best practices for exchanging feedback, participated in feedback role plays, and used this learning to craft personalized Feedback Action Plans to meet the varying needs of their school communities.

Finally, Friday morning offered our participants a variety of sessions to choose from including an incursion at the hotel with New Tech East that focused on the practice of Instructional Rounds, a community excursion with New Tech at Collinwood in the Waterloo Arts district, and an excursion to Facing History New Tech High School. We also had a number of participants stay on site for a session titled, “Professional Collaboration: We’re In This Together.” Participants in this session made their work public by sharing problems of practice (adult work, student work, dilemma, etc.) for examination and feedback in small, collaborative learning groups.

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