What We Should Be Looking For in the Next Head of the Upper School

Mr. McArthur Latin students who frequent the library after school to do their math homework have no doubt noticed the space has been unexpectedly unavailable a few times this fall.  The “LIBRARY CLOSES AT 3:30PM” sign has been tacked up five more times than normal this year, all due to the upper school’s search for a head to take Mr. Graf’s place.  This search was fortuitous timing for me in that I was enrolled in a graduate school class titled “School Leadership” on Wednesday nights for the past ten weeks. In class I’ve learned that effective school leadership is about clear vision, taking risks, seeking change, and asking questions rather than giving directions.  So for five afternoons in the library after school this fall, when we the faculty were given the opportunity to ask questions of five potential new upper school heads, these were qualities I looked for that I now know mark a transformative leader in education.         Beyond the general qualities listed above, I’ve learned that focusing on the personal development of teachers is of the utmost importance to a school having successful classrooms.  As academic scholar Richard Elmore puts it, “instructional leadership is the equivalent of the holy grail in educational administration.”  Ideally, the next head of the upper school at Latin is focused on student learning and instructional effectiveness, not just on running smooth faculty meetings and protecting teachers from uncomfortable interactions with overbearing parents.  In Illinois public schools, high school principals are mandated to spend at least 51% of their time working with teachers on improving their instruction.  Wouldn’t it be great if our new upper school head at Latin spent a similar amount of time with our teachers over the next few years?  As an educator who believes firmly in growth mindset, I know I can get better when I receive quality feedback.  Currently, my changes in instruction mostly come about because of trusted student voices and my department head Mr. Stroup’s suggestions, but I’d love to have an upper school head who takes the time to see me teach and further aids me in helping my students learn more deeply.         Furthermore, my grad class made me interested in Latin hiring a new upper school head who makes an effort to break the “loose-coupled” nature of many of our classrooms.  “Loose-coupling” is a phrase we talked about one Wednesday night this fall, and refers to how many teachers in American schools work in isolated classrooms, rarely getting feedback from their peers.  Most American teachers are “loosely-coupled” with each other; on a typical school day, teachers may rarely work directly with any peers.  I can count on one hand the number of times another teacher has visited my classroom over the last ten years, and vice versa.  This entrenched culture of closed classroom doors in American schools does not help teachers learn from each other, and thus bad teaching practices remain unchanged and good teaching practices remain unshared.  If instructional leadership truly is the “holy grail” of educational administration, I want the new upper school head at Latin to encourage teachers to learn from each other.  This vision will only become reality if the new upper school head tries hard to build more trust among the Latin faculty.  Trust leads to more open classroom doors, more learning opportunities, more constructive peer feedback, better teaching, and most importantly more learning by our dynamic students.         I want to be supported by a school head that values and spends time on instructional excellence over all else.  I want a school head that has an articulated vision, a school head that takes risks, that seeks and implements change with the help of a hard working and dedicated faculty.  Ultimately, I want to work at a school where my students have learning opportunities that are unmatched in the city of Chicago.  Hopefully the library being closed for a few extra hours this fall will be worth it in the long run for all the future upper school students at Latin.]]>