Kevin Petrone was hired as a teacher at Thetford Elementary School (TES) in 2010 after working as a second grade teacher at Samuel Morey for seven years. As a first grade teacher at Thetford,  he quickly earned the reputation as patient, but firm. I can attest to his patience:  it took working almost the entire year with my daughter to keep her shoes on during circle time on the rug-- and it paid off! (Although she still prefers to be barefoot, her shoes are usually on her feet the whole school day now.)

In 2013, Kevin was hired as TES's interim principal and now holds the principal position. He just started his fourth year and draws on his eleven years as a classroom teacher in his approach to leadership. I talked with Kevin recently about his transition to administration -- the opportunities, challenges and areas of focus.

What prompted your transition from classroom to principal's office?

I had always thought about moving to administration. What happened at TES is that an opportunity presented itself. I jumped sooner than I would have, but Keith Thompson moved [out of the position as TES principal] to fill an assistant superintendent roll, and I turned to UVEI to get principal certification.

I also wanted to extend my impact beyond classroom. I was a competent teacher. Colleagueship, sharing ideas and bringing things into the school is hard to do at classroom level. The administrative role makes it easier to influence school culture and climate. I have more of an impact in that role.

What do you find most rewarding about the principalship? What do you miss?

I’m in my fourth year, and it’s extremely different from the dream! I sometimes compare being a principal to having a baby: you don’t really know what it’s like even though people tell you what to expect. So much goes on behind the scenes. As a classroom teacher, you don’t really know. You make judgements about your administrators. Now I have more respect for the position.

What have you found surprising about this job?

Facilities and maintenance. Some days the custodian isn’t in, and I’m fixing toilets, getting phone calls in the middle of night that heat and water are out. I also spend a lot of time on special education law. I’ve learned so much about this.

What are the biggest joys of the job? The challenges?

Joys? Working with the larger school community. community responses, community feedback and conversations with people who are really satisfied. I really enjoy having those conversations with people and passing that feedback on to those responsible. I have way more connections -- parents, school boards, local communities.

Challenges? So many on a daily basis. I have high expectations for myself in this role -- the matter of prioritizing is a challenge. On any given day your plan can go out the window. Those things that come up are pressing, like sitting down with a child who needs you. It’s easy to be removed from kids in this role. So it’s important to be present. I don’t have a daily influence on kids, but it’s there. But I’m more connected with them throughout their life here. As an elementary teacher, once kids move out of your classroom, you barely see them. Now I have them for seven years. I have a different perspective.

This year there’s a focus on Project Based Learning (PBL) at TES. Why PBL? What were you seeing in the school that led you to choose this approach?

It’s funny, as the supervisory union was forming this initiative around PBL, at TES, our school leadership team and groups of teachers were already talking about student engagement. We created value statements a few years ago, and PBL was on our list.

What are some examples of successful PBL at TES?

It’s still our first year and it’s in progress. The first grade farm stand is a great example. It was done last year and this year it involved more than one classroom -- harvesting the garden and making products, selling after school, donating to charity. We have smaller PBL projects, too -- the sixth grade mapped the playground. They calculated the square footage so we can get an idea about how much fertilizer we need year-to-year. It’s more authentic, it removes the text book. The kids see value in what they’re doing.

What school-community connections do you think may be enhanced?

Our PTO is in process of developing a directory of business and community members with expertise who would be willing to come to school and share their expertise; what subject teachers are working on and an expert they can go to find resources. This is a work in progress. Our goal is to have a bank of people who can help kids with the project they’re working on.

The principal's job is challenging, but rewarding. It’s a good feeling.

Interview conducted by Kristen Downey

Kevin Petrone is the principal at Thetford Elementary School.  He graduated from UVEI’s Principal Intern Program in 2014.

 

On Wednesday evening, November 16, twenty five people gathered at UVEI to talk about instructional coaching as a tool for supporting teachers’ continuous improvement. In attendance were school leaders interested in finding new ways to support teachers’ growth. There were teacher leaders who wanted to learn new and better ways to support their colleagues. There were teachers trying to find new resources in their quest to keep getting better. And there were community members who wanted to hear more about UVEI’s work.

This is a topic that the faculty at UVEI has been focusing on for some time. Persuaded by research suggesting that instructional coaching is a good way to address many of the limitations of traditional professional development in schools, the UVEI team spent a year engaging in a design study to try to improve our model for instructional coaching. While coaching was already a strength at UVEI, we wanted to build our skills further. We hoped that a refined model for effective coaching could be the foundation for better training and support.

We learned a lot over the course of the year. The coaching model that emerged (proudly built on the shoulders of giants in the field) emphasizes:

  • Creating a feedback loop, in which the learner sees their own practice and desired practice clearly, learns productive ways to move forward, and takes action.

  • Structuring conferences intentionally to move practice and support productive action.

  • Shifting stances flexibly between instructive, collaborative, and facilitative approaches based on the learner’s needs.

  • Encouraging the learner to become reflective, analytical and metacognitive about their own practice.

  • Fostering equity by bringing attention to the range of student needs.

  • Using a repertoire of coaching language and questioning strategies to foster the above.

We shared some of our areas of greatest learning, including our new-found awareness of the importance of emphasizing the teacher/learner thinking, goals and commitments over coach-driven suggestions and analysis. We also shared our renewed commitment to coaching for equity, an area that we felt we did not satisfactorily address through our study.

The evening closed with a lively conversation during which participants discussed their plans for advancing their own coaching skills and for distributing instructional leadership in their schools. As for UVEI, our mission is to build the capacity of schools by helping them to support continuous teacher development. With this goal in mind, we plan to further develop coaches through practice embedded, collegial, and competency-based learning opportunities. We also plan to host (free) forums for those working as mentors and coaches where participants will have opportunities to talk with colleagues and work through dilemmas. If you are interested in learning more, improving your coaching or joining in, please be in touch with us!

Commentary by Page Tompkins 

Page Tompkins is UVEI's Excecutive Director and a member of the Program Faculty.

 

What drives the development and use of resources in a school? How are decisions made about resource allocation that can impact student outcomes? What is the connection between money and student outcomes? How can there be substantial waste and substantial unmet needs at the same time? (Grubb & Tredway, 2010)

UVEI Principal Interns deepened their knowledge on these questions with the help of Vermont Superintendent Brent Kay at one of our interns’ monthly seminar days. What they learned is that financial management and resource allocation is more than dollars and cents.

To know what it wants to achieve (the outcomes), an organization must know its purpose (the mission and vision). And it must rigorously monitor progress toward achieving its desired outcomes (the accountability). Dr. Kay would say that mission and vision must drive the development and use of resources in our schools. During that seminar day, he was able to help UVEI interns gain a sense of how a budget supports, rather than drives, the work of the school.

By looking at the budgets from their own schools as more than basic accounting, interns focused on some of the indicators of continuous improvement linked to mission and vision work by trying to identify these indicators in their school’s budgets and asking the following questions:

  • Do we set high goals in our school?

  • Do we analyze student data to understand student performance and achievement gaps?

  • Are decisions about curriculum and instruction based on research?

  • Do we invest in teacher training that moves teacher practice?

  • Do we have systems in place to support struggling learners?

  • Is time seen as a resource?

  • Is the school a community of learners focused on inquiry and continuous improvement?

  • How does our budget support each of these indicators? (Rennie Center, 2012)

In going beyond dollar and cents, UVEI Principal Interns are encouraged to see beyond discrete units of knowledge, but instead, use their learning as levers for impacting teachers’ instruction in the classroom and developing their teachers’ capacity.

Commentary by Nan Parsons

Nan Parsons, MEd, CAGS and doctoral candidate, is UVEI’s Associate Director for School Leadership and a member of the program faculty.  Also read Nan's commentary about growth mindset in Getting Smart.