Tolland High School as part of UCONN's administrator preparation program, UCAPP. Here are the top three reasons it was a powerful experience.
1. Perspective. When you've spent the majority of your working years in one place, it's easy to get tunnel vision--to start thinking that your organization (school) has it all right, that your way is the best way, or the only way. But spend some real time in a "competing" organization, and your eyes get opened. E. O. Smith, where I've taught for 14 years, and Tolland High School are very different in culture and the way they are run. But they are both awesome.
2. Practice. Putting in the equivalent of 5 full weeks of work at Tolland over the past two years, not only shadowing the Principal, but participating in teacher evaluation and support, conflict resolution, planning, scheduling, collaborating, analyzing data, setting goals, and having in-depth discussions about school leadership, I got first-hand experience at being a Principal. I learned their days are hard to plan, because you can't foresee home fires and discipline issues, that attention to detail is essential, genuine concern and care for students and teachers is the name of the game, and a collaborative approach to leadership is a powerful way to build an effective school.
3. Precision. One of things that stands out most about Tolland High is the way it runs like a well-oiled machine, and I think its Principal, Dominique Fox, has a lot to do with this. She is meticulous, whether she's checking schedules to ensure there are no conflicts, checking disciplinary records to ensure fairness, carefully crafting systems and structures for teacher evaluation, scrutinizing data to identify students that need more support, continuously collecting feedback and input from her staff, ensuring that decisions are made collaboratively whenever possible, and taking time to build relationships and capacity with well-chosen words, visits, questions, support and encouragement. It's all a manifestation of the value she places on her students and teachers, and the result has been a smooth-running, collaborative structure and continuously improving climate. It's proof that if we carefully build the right structure, everything will fall into place.
I'm grateful to the UCAPP program staff and Regina Birdsell, my clinical supervisor, for making it all possible. But most of all, thanks to Principal Fox, Assistant Principal Martello, and all of the awesome staff and students at THS for this great experience!