Adam Bowen, Principal of New Buffalo Elementary School, was a first year principal when the partnership between BetterLesson and New Buffalo began in SY17-18. For a number of years, Adam had been working closely with his predecessor, David Kelly, now Director of Curriculum, to assume the role of principal. When he received the baton, Adam stepped into leadership with a wide range of teachers to support and a new partnership to forge. BetterLesson kicked off a pilot partnership in SY17-18 with three teachers, all of whom had powerful and transformative coaching experiences. We highlighted one teacher’s story of growth and how Morgan worked in tandem with her principal and her BetterLesson coach, Julie Mason, to double down on differentiation in her classroom for the purpose of accelerating student growth.
Adam sat down with BetterLesson’s Partner Success Manager Tina Lu to share learnings from his first year of principalship and how he turned a teacher’s difficult moment into an opportunity for change.
BL: During the midpoint of the last school year, you saw that Morgan’s student data was not where we expected it to be. With only 23% of her fifth grade students meeting progress on the NWEA math assessment, you knew that something needed to change. How did you approach this conversation?
Adam: I had an hour-long conversation just before meeting with the BetterLesson team. Listening to Morgan was the biggest thing I did and tried not to talk too much. I told her what needed to happen and it wasn’t easy. The biggest thing was getting her what she needed to be successful and help her be excited about something new she was trying. I would listen and then go visit her classroom and say ‘Yea, that was awesome!’ and continued to give her support and resources, and then I listened some more. She’s a great teacher and I’m looking forward to what her future will be in the next couple of years.
BL: I remember our conversation back in January, when you shared your concerns about Morgan’s progress. Not only did you take time to meet with Morgan prior your conversation with the Partner Success Team, you took the additional step of encouraging Morgan to share her data with her coach and then shared data with us so that we could triangulate information. That was brilliant!
What kind of impact did you see BetterLesson Coaching have on Morgan’s practice as a result?
Adam: Morgan wanted to collaborate and reach out to Julie, her BetterLesson coach, especially when her data didn’t come back the way she wanted to. She was eager to reach out and figure out what to do to change that. She looked forward to implementing new ideas, enjoyed talking about what went well and what to tweak. She liked that it was not her boss telling her what to do and it wasn’t someone who had a direct impact on her evaluation.
BL: Morgan must have had a deep relationship of trust both with you and with her coach, such that during a critical moment as this, she knew where to find support and the resources at hand to make incremental changes. Were you able to see BetterLesson Coaching impact other areas of your school community as well?
Adam: Throughout our staff meetings, conversations would come up about BetterLesson. All three participants had nothing but positive things to say. For one teacher, it was the best PD she’s had in 30 years because it’s so personalized and her coach was there to help her become a better teacher. That’s why our partnership went from 3 to 14 people because the coaching had such a positive impact. The biggest thing was letting the work of BetterLesson and teachers speak for themselves.
BL: It sounds like you’ve learned a lot about your role as a principal this first year and found a way to leverage BetterLesson Coaching to support your teachers. What are some of your key takeaways?
Adam: I don’t know everything, and I need to lean heavily on people who are knowledgeable and professional. I need to step back sometimes and let people take on leadership roles. The biggest thing was to actively listen and truly try to help people in what they want to improve on, and my job was to help people improve. If I can’t do that, then I want to get them in touch with people who can. I can’t do everything myself and it takes a whole community effort. When everyone is on the same page, doing the same thing, we put the kids’ best interest at heart.
BL: What would you suggest to other school leaders around how to leverage the impact of BetterLesson Coaching?
Adam: Believe in it.
Maybe it was a good thing that I was overwhelmed and busy at the start of the last year and couldn’t devote all my time to tracking my teachers. Perhaps [our success was] because there wasn’t a top-down driven approach. [School leaders] should be aware of teachers’ personal goals and help them reach personal goals that they have set in place by listening, providing feedback, giving resources, and getting them in touch with experts.
BL: Thank you, Adam, for sharing your learnings with us!