"Seeing the whole picture requires standing back and watching even as you take part in the action being observed…The process must be interactive, not static. The challenge is to move back and forth between the dance floor and the balcony, making interventions, observing their impact in real time, and then returning to the action."
-R. Heifetz & M. Linsky, Leadership on the Line
Twenty-first century educational leaders are faced with enormous challenges. Our nation’s future is in the hands of the children who sit in classrooms today, so the decisions that school leaders make each day have a lasting impact on tomorrow and beyond. As transformational instructional leaders begin to plan for a new school year, they must not hesitate to make tough decisions that challenge long-held beliefs and demand new ways of doing things in the best interests of students. Academic excellence for all students must be the goal for courageous leaders.
Dr. Michon Benson is a member of the inaugural cohort of Houston A+ Challenge’s Regional Principal Leadership Academy (RPLA). After completing her internship with middle school principal Earnest Washington, Jr. at Charles R. Drew Academy in Aldine ISD, Benson decided to remain at Drew to complete the first year of her residency. Taking what might be perceived as an unconventional route to the principalship, she has assumed the role of Response to Intervention (RtI) Team Leader – a role that is honing her craft and developing her repertoire as an instructional leader. "I work with the administrative team to build human capital in every member of the learning community," Benson says.
With the full support of her principal, Benson ensures that resources and interventions are appropriately targeted to serve all struggling learners as early as possible. "All of our teachers understand that RtI serves as an early intervention as well as a prevention process," she observes. "We want to identify students’ growth areas well before any gap in academic failure becomes too great."
As Drew Academy’s RtI Team Leader, Benson makes data-based decisions about student placement and consistently monitors student progress to determine the effectiveness of instruction and/or interventions. "To be sure, RtI can do much to supplement classroom practices, but high-quality instruction is the key to any successful RtI model," she says. "It is a non-negotiable that all teachers' pedagogical practices are research-based and that each instructor – regardless of how long he or she has been in the profession – learns how to best attend to students’ individual needs."
This year, Benson has had a unique opportunity to balance her relationships with students and her commitment to teachers. "I assist students with actualizing their own paths to success by challenging them to set academic and behavior goals and by rewarding them when they consistently meet or exceed progressive expectations. At the same time, I also have the pleasure of facilitating teachers' professional growth, working with them to build, implement, and assess various intervention strategies they develop to help students succeed in their respective classrooms."
Michon Benson is a native Houstonian with 18 years experience in education and arts education administration. She earned her B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin, an M.A. from Texas Southern University, and a Ph.D. from Rice University.
Since its founding twelve years ago, Houston A+ Challenge has played a vital leadership role in education improvement efforts throughout the greater Houston area. By bringing school leaders and others concerned about public education together to learn and to examine issues of shared concern, A+ has forged networks where none existed before. In December 2009, the Board of Directors adopted a new strategic plan for Houston A+ Challenge that will guide the organization's work over the next several years. The Challenge Network, a multi-year, multi-district partnership launching in July 2010, marks a key component of this new strategic direction.
The Challenge Network will partner Houston A+ Challenge with five area school districts. The staff will work intensively with principals, teachers, and students in selected middle schools within these districts identified as ready and willing to raise the bar to better prepare students for post-secondary success. The goal of the Challenge Network initiative is bold: By the end of the program’s second year, participating schools will significantly increase the number of students who are "on track" to be college ready, as initially measured by commended or equivalent performance on the state-mandated English language arts or math test.
Currently, Houston A+ Challenge is seeking highly motivated, skilled and talented people to join a team of Performance Coaches who will be deployed at school sites to build teacher capacity and drive student achievement. A+ is also seeking two executive level leaders to manage the new programming: The Director of School Performance and a Senior Director will report directly to the Executive Director of Houston A+ Challenge. If you are dedicated to making a difference in the education of Houston’s children and are committed to post-secondary success for all students, consider applying to join the team. For more information, click here.
Keep an eye out for additional details about the Challenge Network and other Houston A+ Challenge initiatives on the A+ website.
In Focus With...
As part of our popular National Speaker Series, Houston A+ Challenge was pleased to welcome nationally renowned experts Dr. Jon Saphier and Dr. Pedro Noguera recently.
An Evening With Dr. Jon Saphier
Dr. Jon Saphier, Founder and President of Research for Better Teaching, Inc., spoke with our RPLA participants and other friends and colleagues of Houston A+ Challenge on March 25, sharing his deep knowledge of what we know – and need to know – about teaching expertise. To see Dr. Saphier’s A+ interview, click here.
An Evening With Dr. Pedro Noguera
Renowned urban sociologist Dr. Pedro Noguera visited A+ on April 1, talking with RPLA participants and colleagues about effective leadership, onsite professional development focused on student work, and what we can learn from high performing schools. To see Dr. Noguera’s A+ interview, click here.
Cohort I of the Regional Principal Leadership Academy has been studying Leadership on the Line by Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky at their monthly network meetings. This book should be required reading for every educational leader because it challenges our beliefs and assumptions and causes us to rethink the responsibilities of leadership.
By presenting compelling examples of presidents of countries and of organizations, everyday managers, activists, politicians, and parents who have demonstrated proven strategies for surviving and thriving amidst the dangers of leading, the authors show that it is possible for educational leaders put themselves on the line and respond effectively to the risks of leadership. They also address often-neglected aspects of leadership, such as how to anchor yourself and sustain your spirit through tough times.
RPLA Cohort I members have found the text both challenging and enlightening. In particular, participants have enjoyed delving into the distinction between technical problems and adaptive challenges. According to Heifetz and Linsky, technical problems are issues for which "we have the necessary know-how and procedures to solve." Adaptive challenges, on the other hand, "require experiments, new discoveries, and adjustments from numerous places in the organization or community. Without learning new ways—changing attitudes, values, and behaviors—people cannot make the adaptive leap necessary to thrive in the new environment. "The sustainability of change depends on having the people with the problem internalize the change itself" (p.13). This is the risky, dangerous work of educational leadership in the twenty-first century.
Both uplifting and practical, this essential book enables all of us to lead courageously and confidently.
- NEA Learning & Leadership Grants - $5,000
- MetLife-National Association of Secondary School Principals Breakthrough Schools- $5,000
- American Honda Foundation: Grants for Youth Science Education - $60,000
- Dollar General Back to School Literacy Grants - $5,000
Visit http://www.houstonaplus.org/resources/grants for more grant opportunities