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Critical Friends Working Toward Program Improvement While Building a Partnership

In September of 2018, University of North Georgia (UNG) Educational Leadership staff began partnership discussions with Gwinnett County Schools. The UNG educational leadership program went through several iterations and was working toward revising the program to align with the Principal Pipeline Research from the Wallace Foundation. This revision also met the requirements for the new Tier 1 certification program implemented by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. We were new to the work and very interested in the successful, data-driven work Gwinnett County Schools Leadership development programs.

The initial discussions were about the application process and how we screen candidates, as well as, how we measured the success of our candidates beyond the obvious licensing test by the state.  This was the beginning of deep thinking for us about our program. We quickly learned that to build a quality program, we needed to attract the best candidates and track them through their placements in schools as leaders to determine the effectiveness of our work. We were most impressed with Gwinnett’s systems for measuring the success of their leadership development programs. This was great timing for our program as our Tier I participants had just completed the first cohort.  

The quality measures divide the process program improvement into six domains. We shared our practices in our Tier I program in each of the six areas, collecting evidence to support our work with our critical friends from Gwinnett.  At the same time, Gwinnett County Schools examined its practices in its principal preparation program sharing with us as critical friends. The process was transparent and helpful.  We both walked away with fresh ideas for improving our programs.

From the feedback received from the first session with Debbie Daniels of the Wallace Foundation, both teams developed a 90 day Action Plan.  In this plan, we identified strategies that we could begin to work on to improve our programs. Some of the strategies required fine-tuning, while others involved major overhauls of processes in place.  All were improvements to our current practice and agreed upon strategies.  

Most of the initial focus was on domain 1, marketing strategies, since we were entering into the application process for our next cohort. We were able to add measures to our application process and utilize our evaluation platform to collect data and document feedback on the internship. While we were focusing on these changes, Gwinnett was working on some major shifts in pedagogy and andragogy. 

After 90 days, we reconvened to share our progress and evidence. This evidence was examined with a critical eye. The feedback was very helpful.  Whenever you are working as critical friends, your opinion matters.  This process resulted in a renewed partnership between UNG and Gwinnett County. More importantly, it resulted in a mutual admiration of the work that both entities are doing to meet the need of our future leaders. We recommend the quality measures process for anyone who truly wants to take a critical look at their program and use that feedback for improvement.  

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