SUMMIT, NJ - Sometimes, in order to perfect a good dish, a chef uses an experienced taster to say “more salt” or “less butter."  Seizing on this premise of constructive feedback to enhance a product, more than 30 teachers from Washington and Jefferson Elementary Schools, along with all Summit elementary school administrators, attended a voluntary Leadership Training Workshop last month at Washington School.

This program, funded by a dual-phase professional development grant underwritten by Summit Educational Foundation (SEF) and the District, aims to further the development of Summit’s teachers as leaders and innovators, with these gains eventually benefitting the students.

The seminar, conducted by Dr. Ellie Drago Severson, the Director of the Doctoral Program in Leadership at Columbia University, was based on an assignment the District's Literary Coach, Christy O’Connor, had when she was a student in Dr. Severson’s leadership program.

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O’Connor, along with Jefferson Principal Ron Poles, and Washington Principal Lauren Banker, comprised the team that spearheaded the Leadership Training Workshop.  During the session, teachers and administrators were encouraged to brainstorm about how best to raise the quality of instruction in the District using a teaming approach, with emphasis on the importance of collegial feedback.  Collegial feedback requires teachers to trust each other, embrace their vulnerabilities, and extend their roles as colleagues to that of peer coaches.

The stated mission of the workshop leadership team emphasizes the strength in numbers approach:

- We believe we are stronger collectively.

- That together we can better serve all of our children, especially those who fall within the Achievement Gap.

- As educators we believe every minute and every student counts. Therefore we are committed to being lifelong learners, and as we pursue ways to improve our instruction, our ability to lead by example will empower our colleagues and students.

- We know we make a difference, and our difference is changing Summit and the world one child at a time.

The Washington and Jefferson group and the elementary school administrators spent the day discussing ways in which they could best give and receive constructive commentary. Collaborative planning and inter-class visitations were the winning conclusions.  P.J. McCarthy, fourth grade teacher at Washington, explained, “So much feedback is data driven.  You need to meet a person where they are, understand where people are coming from, in order to solve collective problems.”

The focus of the session differed from typical professional development programs that provide teachers with external resources for growth, such as novel programs, technology, and new initiatives.  Research shows that the growth of an educator’s internal resources are just as important, since his or her ability to receive and deliver feedback, collaborate effectively in groups, and build one’s knowledge and skills leads to the greatest gains in student achievement.  Gina Mahon, fourth grade teacher at Washington, emphasized the importance of “Starting at the ground up to build the foundation of knowing yourselves and how to better yourself; how to be a learner and how to show the kids the same.”

The District has already implemented joint faculty meetings to share best practices, an idea raised in the Leadership Training Workshop.  This program will hopefully be expanded to all elementary schools in the District during the 2015-16 school year.  Ms. Angela Paster, school psychologist, summed up the goal of the day when she said, “So many educators came together with common goals to better ourselves.”

To find out more about SEF, visit www.sefnj.org.