Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Sparks’

Six Ways Principals Can Support Instructional Coaching

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

Dennis Sparks is one of our generation’s most influential educational leaders. His guidance of the National Staff Development Council, now Learning Forward, established it as the world’s leading organization for professional development. His books especially Leading for Results and Leadership 180: Daily Meditations for School Leaders, are packed with wise, practical advice, concisely articulated. His blog pushes, inspires, and educates me, and I highly recommend it.

For all these reasons, I was honored when Dennis asked my to write a guest post for his blog. My column, “Six Ways Principals Can Support Instructional Coaching,” begins as follows:

Instructional coaching has the potential to dramatically improve teaching practice and consequently student learning. But in most cases, a coach’s success is directly connected to how effectively she or he is supported (or not supported) by his or her principal. After working with hundreds of schools where coaches have succeeded and struggled, I’ve found that there are six actions principals can do that will make or break instructional coaching success.

You can read the rest of the column or subscribe to Dennis’s blog here

The Everyday Leadership of ‘Tempered Radicals’

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

This is a guest post by Dennis Sparks, Emeritus Executive Director of the National Staff Development Council, now known as Learning Forward. Dennis’ blog, “Dennis Sparks on Leading and Learning,” can be found at

“Radical learners” may sometimes feel like outsiders even when they hold important positions withing their schools.  Debra Meyerson uses the term “tempered radicals” to describe such individuals, and it is also the name of a book she wrote based on studies she has done on TRs, as she calls them.

Drawing on Meyerson’s Tempered Radicals and a 2005 interview I did with her for the JSD, I offer a set of attributes about “everyday leadership” so that “radical learners” can be even more effective in using their unique talents and perspectives to serve students and their school communities.

Who are “tempered radicals”?

“‘Tempered Radicals,'” Meyerson writes in her book, “are people who want to succeed in their organizations yet want to live by their values or identities, even if they are somehow at odds with the dominant culture of their organizations. …  Tempered radicals are likely to think ‘out of the box’ because they are not fully in the box. As ‘outsiders within,’ they have both a critical and creative edge. They speak new ‘truths.'”

Meyerson also sees TRs as “everyday leaders” who are “… quiet catalysts who push back against prevailing norms, create learning, and lay the ground work for slow but ongoing organizational and social change.”

Here are five attributes of tempered radicals who are effective “everyday leaders”:

They speak their truths, even when afraid: “[M]ost conflicts,” Meyerson wrote in Tempered Radicals, “are not created by tempered radicals; but tempered radicals are often the ones who speak ‘truths’ and raise issues that have been suppressed. … Such acts of deviation …,” she writes, “require self-knowledge and conviction to overcome enormous pressure to conform and to suppress beliefs that challenge the majority.”

They have strong support networks: “Allies remind you that your struggles are not yours alone,” Meyerson wrote in her book. “Having people with whom you can compare your experience helps you identify larger patterns outside yourself that need to change. . . . The biggest advantage of working in concert with others is that collectives have greater legitimacy, power, and resources than individuals.”

They have a bias toward action, especially “small deviant actions”:  “Sometimes [TRs] inspire change simply by behaving differently, and their small deviant actions challenge norms and set an example that others emulate . . .,” Meyerson wrote in Tempered Radicals. “Often tempered radicals lead change more deliberately by initiating small wins that result in new relationships, understandings, and patterns of behavior.”

They have clarity about and a laser-like focus on their most important goals: “Effective agents of change at the grass-roots level know who they are and what they are trying to accomplish,” Meyerson told me in our JSD interview. “Effective tempered radicals hold on to their deepest goals, which enables them to push through their fears and to choose their battles effectively.”

They promote, through their example and advocacy, experimentation and deep professional conversations: “Tempered radicalism is sustained through the daily interactions that occur within a supportive context …,” Meyerson told me in the JSD interview. “That’s done when teachers experiment, have some success, and have deep conversations with one another about the things that are working. … Experiments become the stimulus for conversation and the vehicle for professional learning.”

A final thought…

Tempered is an apt adjective to describe the radical learners who are drawn to this blog because of the inspiration and guidance it provides.

The attributes I described above are intended to provide yet another thread in this tapestry of ideas and practices to enable radical learners to better serve their school communities through countless acts of everyday leadership.

Teachers as Leaders of Classroom Teams

Monday, January 10th, 2011

This is a guest column by Dennis Sparks Emeritus Executive Director of the National Staff Development Council, now known as Learning Forward and author of many publications about education, including his outstanding book Leading for Results: Transforming Teaching, Learning, and Relationships in Schools.

In every highly-effective classroom we study, we find a teacher who, like any great leader rallies team members (in this case, students and their families) around an ambitious vision of success.  . . . Without exception, these teachers define their role as doing whatever it takes to ensure their students’ success.

Steven Farr, December 2010/January 2011 EL

Sometimes it is the simple acts that are the most radical. That’s because their successful execution requires the most radical kind of learning — the development of new paradigms that affect how individuals view the world and the acquisition of understandings and skills that guide their actions in implementing the new paradigm. In this case, I’m thinking of teachers adopting a conceptual frame in which they view themselves as leaders of teams of students and their families and developing the knowledge and skills required to be successful team leaders.

In this new paradigm, teachers see themselves as leaders of cooperative student teams rather than as instructors of individual students who compete with one another for grades and their teacher’s attention. In such classrooms, all students and their families feel responsible for the success of every student and do everything in their power to ensure it. Teachers design meaningful, engaging academic work for student teams and explicitly teach their students essential interpersonal skills, including those of peer mediation and other group-based processes to settle disputes and address classroom discipline issues.

This radically different view of teaching requires that school leaders interact with teachers in new ways. Teacher performance evaluation would be less about a teacher’s “moves” and more about the quality of the academic work that teachers design for student teams and the strength of the teamwork displayed within their classrooms. Leaders would have frequent conversations with teachers about the features of meaningful, engaging academic work and the attributes of high-functioning teams. Formal professional learning would also address the understandings and skills required to design such student work and to lead classroom and family teams, among other topics.

In addition, if teachers are to be successful leaders of classroom teams, it is essential, I believe, that they themselves are active participants in strong, school-based collegial teams that have as their purpose the continuous improvement of teaching and learning. Through their own experiences with team-based learning teachers will better understand the challenges and benefits of meaningful teamwork and be motivated to ensure that those benefits are available to all members of the school community.

Viewing teachers as leaders responsible for the development of high-functioning classroom teams will in many schools be a radical departure from the traditional “sage on the stage” paradigm. It will require extensive learning by doing and sustained, substantive professional conversations within teacher teams and between teachers and their leaders. Such an approach—deeply embedded within the culture of schools—is in my view an example of “radical learning” at its best.