Lightening the Load of Leaders While Inspiring Growth

By Shannon Vogler, Cognia Regional Director

The expectations of educational leaders have grown exponentially over the last few years. Everything feels urgent and all roads lead to you. Little time is left for reflection, preparation, and evaluation of the existing tools and familiar resources supporting continuous improvement and teacher growth. However, both the Nebraska Accountability for a Quality Education System, Today and Tomorrow (AQuESTT) Framework and the Nebraska Principal Performance Standards point in your direction. This includes providing leadership to execute the school's vision for learning; leading continuous improvement; providing staff support and development; managing operations and establishing a culture for learning. We want to encourage you; you are not alone. Tapping into existing partnerships lightens the load.

As a global network, Cognia serves all types of institutions, crafting standards to improve education quality and opportunities for all students. Our mission is to serve as a partner to our network institutions as they navigate policy change, sustain a healthy culture, and address emerging educational trends. Our research-based Performance Standards align to Nebraska driven goals and our Network benefits are designed to measure, monitor, and inform improvement. While our legacy has been accreditation, we are foundationally invested in continuous improvement. Over the last few years, we have created data tools and brokered resources that not only point to best practice but support it. Through our deep body of data, research, and environmental scans four key characteristics have emerged that are found in a quality school: a healthy culture for learning, leadership for learning, engagement of learning, and growth in learning. These key characteristics are realized through your leadership and vision for your institution. A safe and supportive environment where teachers and students alike receive formative feedback, given agency over their own learning, embraces a growth mindset, and values stakeholder engagement.

As a teacher leader, this load may feel very heavy and overwhelming. Often, we lean toward the familiar when it comes to how we approach teaching and learning. However, we know the former industrial model of education does not meet the needs of students today. Consider the rise in special education or the greater need for social emotional support for students and staff. An important strategy emerging is fostering agency and engagement to support work in these areas. The significance of student engagement is not new. As Cognia has spent thousands of hours observing students in the classroom, we know firsthand that engagement is a major indicator of learning and development, and is correlated to improved attendance, reduced disciplinary incidents and school climate. One of the most significant challenges we face today is that students have either become compliant workers who finish tasks but are not truly engaged in the learning process or exhibit apathy and disengagement. Student and teacher agency opens the door to relevance, empowerment, and ownership, inspiring both engagement and growth in learning. Through Cognia’s student engagement survey tool and the effective learning environment observation tool (eleot®) schools can garner data from both the observational and perceptual lens. Data show a positive relationship between a vibrant learner environment and overall school quality. Analysis of these data points may inform engagement, but then what? Research has indicated that teacher satisfaction, engagement, and retention are impacted by school climate. As leaders, we need strategies and resources that will foster agency, growth, and support an engaging classroom environment.

How a leader approaches professional learning can impact teacher buy-in and growth in this area. When you plan for professional development what determines how those hours are spent? Are you spending more of your time on "have to" than data driven needs or interests? Are the investments made in professional development inspiring innovation and improved practice or simply utilizing the familiar and convenient? School leaders should consider if the current "status quo" of professional learning is truly inspiring improved practice. Does it offer some level of teacher agency to best meet the personal needs of each educator, where they are today in their own growth? School leaders do not need more to do, but we do need to ensure our limited time and investments are well made.

Over the past decade Cognia has expanded their capability to bring data tools, resources, and training to inform and support improvement. This past year we have broadened our benefits to help our network members invest in teacher growth. Just as student formative assessments help direct teaching strategies and action, the Cognia Teacher Observation Tool is an electronic formative tool to offer real-time, qualitative feedback for teacher's around effective practice; which include culture/climate, learning, essentials, agency, and relationship. More than likely you will find alignment to your instructional model or strategies adopted by your school. The eleot® and teacher observation tool can provide a unique perspective to the adult actions and behaviors seen in the classroom and how they impact the learning environment. We know that teachers are life-long learners, but often what is available to them may not be relevant or meet their personal needs. That "growth mindset" feedback can help a teacher to identify areas of professional learning they would like to engage in. The Cognia Learning Community brings a personalized approach to learning and a community platform to your educators and leaders. Just as with students, the sit-and-get method of professional learning is not the most effective form of pedagogy. Established learning labs and cycles bring a regenerative approach to active learning. Educators engage with digital content to introduce a topic, reflect on their own practice, then "tinker,” utilizing the resources provided, and grow in practice. Through that engagement, teachers can join communities of similar interest to connect with a larger network beyond their school or embed their own professional learning communities within the digital platform to share and gain new ideas. This lightens the load of professional learning management for teacher leaders, brings equity to your professional learning offerings, and brings additional coaching and collaboration resources to your institution.

We know how important leadership is to the climate and culture of a school, impacting student behavior, achievement, and teacher satisfaction. Investing in a valued resource, the educator, and supporting their personal growth and agency can help quality educators improve engagement and student outcomes. To learn more about fostering engagement or current thought leadership in education visit The Source. To learn more, reach out to


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