Dr. Dunlap’s Notes from the Field: Becoming an Agent of Change

Linda DunlapDr. Linda Dunlap, Associate Professor at the Wayland H. Cato, Jr. School of Education at Queens University of Charlotte, understands the challenges faced by principals striving to drive change at their schools – she has lived through them firsthand, having served in various school administration roles. Today, she uses this vast experience to teach and inspire future school leaders, including students in the online MA in Educational Leadership at Queens.

Here, Dr. Dunlap shares one of her experiences overcoming resistance to change to drive instructional improvement at her school.

In the school where I became principal, the teachers were bemoaning the writing scores their fourth graders had received on the NAEP Test (National Assessment for Education Progress) the year before. They just could not understand how those scores could have been so low because they had started writing in January (the test that year came in March)!

According to Kathleen Fitzpatrick, a professor of media studies at Pomona College, the motto for academia should be, “We have never done it that way before.” Famous last words that we have heard uttered so many times when something new (or different) has been proposed. I call them the “never doners.”

I proposed a change that might not bring about a lot of improvement in the present year, but would certainly help to lay a foundation to raise the scores in the next two-to-three years. What was my proposal? We should begin teaching writing in Kindergarten. My rationale: If we begin in Kindergarten, consistently teaching writing every year, by the time those Kindergarten students are in fourth grade, they will be much more prepared for the test. (That really is not rocket science.)

It goes without saying that I was met with not only resistance but with questions as to how I thought Kindergarteners could possibly learn to write! We began teaching the writing process, students began writing each week, and teachers were submitting samples of their students’ work to me. I helped the fourth grade teachers especially in their approach to teaching writing in their classes.

The next spring, the fourth grade writing scores increased by 30%. At the end of the year I had one veteran kindergarten teacher (27 years in the profession) tell me she had no idea “those kids could do that” and was thrilled to see her “little kindergarteners” doing some really creative writing!

What a difference that change made in requiring that students be taught the process and write in their classrooms every week! If the process continued, it goes without saying that the test scores could only go up after that. As agents of change, we have to keep the big picture in view!

This is just one of many real-world lessons shared by Dr. Dunlap in Queens’ educational leadership courses. Learn how to be a principal of change for your school – call us at 866-313-2356 or request more information about the master’s in Educational Leadership offered online by Queens.