In part 4 of this 4-part interview, author and Advanced Collaborative Solutions president Steve Ventura shares why supporting teachers means letting them know it’s OK to make mistakes.
Watch the interview video on supporting teachers above, or read the interview transcript below.
Supporting teachers? Let them know it’s OK to make mistakes
– Welcome to another PL together lounge talk. I’m Adam Geller, founder and CEO of Edthena, the video coaching platform that streamlines feedback to teachers. Today we’re talking with Steven Tura. He is the author of multiple books. He’s also a former classroom teacher, former principal, former superintendent, and, he’s here to talk with us about being a leader. But Steve, I’m realizing, I forgot to ask, what did you teach? I keep saying you’re a former classroom teacher, but I haven’t asked you what did you teach when you were a teacher?
– I started off as a very humble physical education teacher and then transitioned into special education.
– All right. Well, you have a lot of experience that you draw on in your multiple books and as a consultant to districts across the country. And, what I want to kind of think about together is how instructional leaders can prepare themselves to influence others. And, you know, before we even get into the answer, I want to highlight that I’m saying instructional leaders because this isn’t just for the school leaders out there. This isn’t just for the principals and the district admins. This is for those teacher leaders who are instructional leaders, but may not have a different title that kind of puts them in a different role. So how can they prepare themselves to influence others?
– It’s so funny because that term instructional leadership is very common, but rarely does the title transition into practice. One of the things I try to come up with, like, what is the definition of an instructional leader? And the only thing I could think of was that it wasn’t about micro-managing instruction to improve people. It was giving teachers the ability to create their own levels of self and collective efficacy where they can improve themselves. But you know, what do I look for Adam in a leader? I mean, I look for people who can demonstrate integrity, consistency, and ability. That those things I look for all the time when people are teaching me or I’m learning from someone. That’s the only way, sometimes I believe people is that they demonstrate integrity, consistency, and ability. You do those three things I am all in, right? But the other thing is, is that leaders need to get out in front, and live the culture they’re asking everybody else to live. And once people see that, okay, this is someone that’s learning with us. It’s not gonna not gonna give learning to us. I think there’s a tremendous amount of relationship there. And, things have changed a lot with leadership. It used to be a very top-down manager type of thing in school settings. I don’t think that really. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. The most successful leaders I see actually allowed teachers a certain amount of autonomy, where they can do things without always asking for permission. And they have boundaries, but they have autonomy, and autonomy is responsible behavior, not just doing whatever you want. But I think that most leaders I see can somehow motivate people to do more than they ever thought they could. I really think the leader has to live that culture and model it. This is what I want for my school. And this is how I’m going to do it. I mean, when we ask people to change. When you ask people to change, the first thing they want to know is can you change with us? That’s a really good place to start, because no one wants to be told to change. That’s why I kind of mentioned to you before I was reading some research from Vivian Robinson and she said the number one indicator of a great academic leader is promoting and participating in teacher learning and development. I can tell you I’m guilty of this. I would say, hey, listen, if you need me, I’m going to be in my office. Here’s the staff, they’re in the library for you. These are all things that make me cringe because I’ve done them. But I think straight away, I’ve heard this quote. I wish I could credit to the right person. For leaders, “if your presence doesn’t add value, your absence will never make a difference.” I think every day we have to repeat this to ourselves all the time. Even before I present, I’m always saying demonstrate, integrity, consistency, and ability. Otherwise, no one’s going to believe you. So I think the way leaders have to prepare themselves for this, is to show people who they are. I don’t think instructional leadership is about being the smartest person in the building. It’s about getting everybody together to share their collective intelligence. So the place we can just run like a well oiled machine.
– Sounds like if you’re choosing one way to, to demonstrate action among others, it’s almost as if you’re kind of committing to learning and changing with others is really the key. Kind of sitting at the center of those, those three ideas that you were just talking about. One of the things you’ve written about a little bit recently is about having a culture of resilience state, and I feel like that is important as we continue to have an educational environment that’s being acted upon by a lot of outside forces, and is feeling more uncertain or more unpredictable than it ever has. It’s requiring more emotional resiliency from the educator. So, how can leaders help create that culture of resiliency among those that they’re working with?
– I think that, you know, as a leader, we should be letting our folks know that, that you get multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency and your expertise, and that if you make a mistake, all we do is we learn from those mistakes. The best learning I know is when kids or adults fall into a pit and they get out of their pit. I think resiliency means that there’s no fall reflection on our practice. If we happen to make a mistake because we have a chance to actually improve our practice. I think, but people get worn out and they can’t show resiliency. Another thing is just piling on so many things that people really can’t see any. One of the things I noticed that teachers do, and this is why they get so anxious is that they will do everything they’re told, but it won’t be a high quality. They’re just so conscientious. They’re very obedient sometimes. But I think creating resiliency, lets people know that we’re working in an environment that allows for mistakes, and allows people to continue to improve their practice again without the harsh judgement. Everybody’s learning at the same time. And I think right now, it’s time to show grace to everybody. As we come off, all these really difficult last 17 or 18 months. We should be exhibiting much more grace, and trust and allow people to adjust, and grow without having to feel like everything matters. If everything matters then nothing matters. And I think we need to prioritize what works, what works best. So resiliency is definitely living in the present. I always tell people like psychologists say, if you live in the past, you’re depressed. And if you live in the future, you’re anxious. But if you can live in the present, you’ll be much more resilient, and actually for educators that improves relaxation and it improves our effectiveness. So, I think giving grace and allowing people to work up to their potential is one of the best ways to build resiliency.
– You gave us a good reminder there of all of the for lack of a better word experimentation, that happened at the onset of the pandemic. And, that with that experimentation came kind of an acceptance. That some of the things we were trying might not work. It really feels like you’re reminding us here that it’s okay to try things even if they don’t work. That is itself, a way to become stronger and become more resilient. Is that kind of a good kind of positioning of this idea?
– I think I really believe it. I think so. I mean, I wouldn’t say, we have to take a bunch of risks. I would just say that there are things that people need time to learn to execute, and they ought to be given that gift of time to do that where we don’t make people feel that they’ve messed up and that there’s no way they can correct whatever they feel like. And sometimes people are so hard on themselves. I think the best thing that we can do in terms of leadership in our building is to help everyone in this school understand that we’re here to simply evaluate how much of a difference we’re making, what’s our impact and that’s everybody. I think we can do that. We teach resiliency because people just start understanding what was working and what may need to be fine tuned. I think the most successful organizations work that way, I think.
– I don’t think anybody’s going to hear this and think you’re telling us, go experiment on kids. You’re just saying, be comfortable trying things within reason, within parameters, but that by trying things we can all continue to improve and get better. I like that. Well, Steve, it has been great talking with you and learning with you. If you’re interested to learn more from Steve, make sure to pick up one of his many books, including one coming out in March 2022 about collective efficacy and collaboration in partnership with AFCD. You can also learn from him at his website, steventura.com. And if you’re finding this video shared on social media and wondering what else did they talk about or who else did Adam talk with, head to pltogether.org for the rest of this conversation as well as many more. Steve, thanks so much for being part of PL together.
– Thank you so much. It was a pleasure being here.
For more interviews with education leaders about supporting teachers and other insights, check out all of our PLtogether Lounge Talks.