Close to 400 Spring ISD leaders and staff members gathered June 14-17 at Dekaney High School for the district’s first-ever Spring ISD Leadership Institute, which featured four days of keynote speakers, smaller breakout sessions and networking.
The event kicked off two weeks of dedicated professional development this summer for both administrators and teachers. Teachers will have the opportunity to participate in their own event to be held July 19-22, also at Dekaney High School.
“We’re committed to providing opportunities for all of our staff to learn and grow,” said Spring ISD Superintendent Dr. Rodney E. Watson. “In fact, a growth mindset is essential to our Leadership Definition as we encourage everyone to actively seek ways to improve their craft, whether it’s the practice of teaching and leading students in a classroom or leading a team or department. Learning is what we do in Spring ISD.”
The conference offered multiple collaborative sessions as well as keynote speakers each day, including Dr. Alex del Carmen, the executive director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Tarleton State University; Dr. David L. Banks, president of Noble Success Strategic Group; Baruti Kafele, principal of four turnaround schools; and Darryl Williams, co-managing director of Teach Like a Champion.
The days and corresponding sessions of the Summer Leadership Institute were organized around the district’s Leadership Definition and its associated core competencies, with Monday dedicated to general leadership principles, Tuesday focused on “Outcome-Driven,” Wednesday on “Service-Oriented,” and Thursday on “Relationship-Centered.” Williams opened up day two of the conference as keynote speaker, where he delivered a strong message on what it means to be an outcome-driven leader in education.
“We come to schools and ask students to bring their full selves, engage deeply and to engage in discussions,” Williams said. “But as adults, when we have opportunities to go to workshops and develop, we sit and we check emails. To be an outcome-driven leader, this is not a role that you can fake. You have to be in a place where you can constantly be growing and developing, and have the capacity to be instructional and people leaders.”
Paula Martin, 2020-21 Teacher of the Year recipient and 8th grade science teacher at Claughton Middle School, said she loved Williams’ presentation on being an outcome-driven leader, which left her reflecting on how the pandemic affected teaching over the last two school years.
“Ultimately, my goal is to make sure everything is student-centered and student-focused,” Martin said. “We’re moving away from ‘sage-on-stage’ energy where I’m giving lectures. I teach science, so students need to be engaging in experiments, and that needs to be built into the lessons. My approach has been student-focused and collaborative energy with my students and asking them, ‘Hey, what did you think about that experiment?’ And my students are honest. Getting that feedback and making adjustments is important.”
Like many other teachers, Martin looks forward to the in-person return of students this fall and getting back to more hands-on experiments.
“I’m looking forward to actually being back in the classroom,” she said, “being able to actually do experiments and really engage with my kids in science inquiry.”
Samba Goddard, Spring ISD K-5 Social Studies Curriculum Specialist, said one highlight of the conference for him was the keynote speech and breakout session from Dr. David C. Banks.
“He had many memorable quotes, but the best were, ‘Leaders must equip and empower their staff,’ and, ‘A leader should be a thermostat for their staff,’” Goddard said, while also praising Banks for giving great information about the need for leaders to have a vision and a system in place to make that vision a reality.
Goddard said attendees also left feeling inspired following the keynote address from Principal Baruti Kafele, a nationally known public school educator from New Jersey, who spoke on the final afternoon of the four-day event.
“Principal Kafele’s speech spoke to valuing people for their humanity and identities,” Goddard said. “He said that you can’t teach students, or lead people, if you don’t care about them! I also loved his comments about valuing students’ voices and experiences when you are working with them. What I am taking back with my curriculum work is to continue to hone my empathy for those I work with and those I work for.”
Before the Summer Leadership Institute kicked off, Watson said the event would provide a valuable opportunity for Spring ISD educators to hit reset, take part in important professional development activities, and get inspired for new beginnings.
“This is going to set the stage as we continue to prepare and plan for the 2021-22 school year, which will be so important for our students as we put the pandemic behind us,” Watson said.