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Leaders in the Middle Meet in St. Louis

Caught in Middle Leadership?

The Secondary and Presecondary Education Department of the USA Central and Southern Province recently welcomed 21 teachers from province schools to St. Louis for a Leaders in the Middle conference. Who are the leaders in the middle, and what can a conference do for them? Here’s a glimpse: 

Jan Smith, an English department leader at a Jesuit high school, is leaving her weekly academic chair meeting with a mandate from the school’s principal: become more engaged in the school’s teacher feedback and evaluation program. Jan feels caught in the middle of the principal’s desires for this program’s success (a good desire, indeed) and potential anger that her colleagues will feel by being subjected to yet another mandate from above. At the same time, Jan is eager to offer her colleagues in the English department feedback on students and classroom instruction, though apprehensive because she has been given few tools, little time to experiment and practice, and no clear path forward with this feedback and evaluation program in her department. 

How does Jan fit into the bigger picture? Conflicted about the increasing number of responsibilities she faces as a middle leader, Jan attends the province-sponsored Leaders in the Middle (LIM) conference. Though she arrives a bit frustrated, she remains hopeful about learning some information that could prove useful to her as she navigates her responsibilities. 

Leaders in the Middle at work

What does Jan need to be successful as a middle leader in a Jesuit high school these days? The Leaders in the Middle conference has been in development for four years. Based on research and best practices, it has proved helpful to nearly 70 academic department leaders and program directors of college preparatory high schools in the USA Central and Southern Province. 

The four-day LIM conference is limited to middle leaders, and is designed to help participants build community and networking opportunities, and offers ongoing support after the conference. 

Supported by principals in the province network of schools, the program is framed by themes from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, along with extensive participant reflection. The experience requires participants to arrive having done substantial pre-conference work exploring themselves and how others perceive them (through self-assessments and stakeholder interviews). While at the conference, they fulfill content, facilitation, and reflection responsibilities on site. 

Led by Mary Russo (St. Louis University High School) and Trip Norkus (Strake Jesuit College Preparatory of Houston), the group tackles big questions and issues and learns practical skills, including: 

  • How does a school move from being a good Jesuits school to integrating mission and vision at every level and in every action? 
  • How do leaders in the middle begin to examine curricula – not only in academic departments but also in counseling, student services, co-curricular, athletic, and faith formation programming? How are written plans integrated into school-wide strategic plans? 
  • How can educators see themselves as channels, serving others by right-listening and by using support systems and maps to help coach colleagues (Cognitive Coaching)? 
  • What is a middle leader’s role in school-wide programs that offer teachers and staff feedback and evaluation? And what are strategies for evaluation? 
  • How can educators approach school-wide and departmental challenges? And what are our quick-win, slow and steady, and crazy/transformative entry points to those challenges? 
  • Finally, how do leaders in the middle set the context, consider space and time, develop effective agendas, share responsibilities and implement action plans for meetings they facilitate? 
This is the information middle leaders have always needed to do their jobs. And Leaders in the Middle provides tools, support, experiment-time-away, and thus middle leader confidence - things middle leaders perhaps don’t necessarily get but need to do their jobs successfully. 

One recent conference graduate writes, Leaders in the Middle “was valuable, practical and useful. I fully plan to practice applying the skills taught. My goal is to internalize the Cognitive Coaching and walk-through guides so that I don't have to have cue cards! The conference content was exactly what instructional coaches and middle leaders need.”





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