Leadership Qualities and Teacher Leadership: An Interview with Olene Walker

Posted on December 12, 2013


It seems obvious that all of us need feedback if we really want to reach a goal, adiposity improve our skill set, or raise our performance. Feedback should be considered a coach that helps us reduce the discrepancy between our current and desired outcomes (Hattie & Timperley, 2007).

What is feedback and how can it help?

According to Hattie and Timperley (2007), feedback is information provided by a teacher, peer, parent, or experience about one’s performance or understanding. Feedback is most valuable when it is connected to a discrete task or activity for the purpose of closing the gap between what is currently understood and what needs to be understood (Sadler, 1989). In closing the understanding gap, feedback confirms to students that they are correct or incorrect, cues students to restructure their approach to a task, and informs students to self-direction that results in the successful implementation of a strategy, developing conceptual understanding of a concept, and/or task completion (Winne & Butler, 1994). Feedback can be accepted, modified, or rejected (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). If utilized it can enhance one’s ability to relate the new information to what we already know, promote perseverance, and resolve to achieve the desired goal.

In education, we depend on feedback as a way to communicate data between teacher and student, between teacher and administrator, between teacher and teacher, and between student and student. The average effect size of feedback in classrooms is 0.79; in other words, it’s among the top five influences on achievement (Hattie, 1999). “The most effective forms of feedback provide cues or reinforcement to learners; are in the form of video-, audio-, or computer-assisted instructional feedback; and/or relate to goals” (Hattie & Timperley, 2007, p. 84). For students who struggle with a task, it is critical that feedback is a daily occurrence.

Feedback Structures that Coach Students to Improve

While watching the TED Talk: “Salman Khan: Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education”

(http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_reinvent_education.html), I was reminded of the influence that feedback has on improving performance. The function of Khan Academy is to reinvent the influence of feedback in the learning process so that mastery is expected. Salman Khan (Khan 2011, TED Talk Transcript) states: “So our model is learn math the way you’d learn anything, like the way you would learn a bicycle. Stay on that bicycle. Fall off that bicycle. Do it as long as necessary until you have mastery… We encourage you to experiment. We encourage you to failure. But we do expect mastery.”

Khan presented four distinct feedback structures that coach a student to mastery.

1)  Feedback to the student on his/her performance in the form of immediate cues, reinforcement, and corrective feedback so the student must master a math concept. Because learning is self-paced, students who need more practice and feedback receive it in a timely manner. Students experience many practice opportunities until they get the concept.

2)  Feedback to the teacher about student performance in the form of a data-centric live dashboard, so that a teacher can examine daily every student’s progress/proficiency level, where the student is stuck, how long it took for the student to master a specific concept, and what they focused on. This results in targeted help during classroom instruction.

3)  Feedback from teacher to student on his/her performance in the form of teachers being able to spend 50 – 75% more class time providing monitored guided and independent practice because students watch the videos lectures on key math concepts as homework.

4)  Feedback from student to student in the form of proficient students being peer tutors to those who are struggling.

In a typical school classroom, whether one scores 90% or below 70%, the class moves on to the next core standard. There is no attention to what the student doesn’t understand. In mathematics, if a student hasn’t mastered how to plot an ordered pair on a coordinate plane, how can the student explain how to find slope of a line or calculate slope with mastery? Salman Khan (Khan 2011, TED Talk Transcript) expressed it this way: “Imagine learning to ride a bicycle, and maybe I give you a lecture ahead of time, and I give you that bicycle for two weeks. And then I come back after two weeks, and I say, “Well, let’s see. You’re having trouble taking left turns. You can’t quite stop. You’re an 80 percent bicyclist.” So I put a big “C” stamp on your forehead and then I say, “Here’s a unicycle.” Bottom line, our students have gaps in their conceptual understanding (the foundation) and procedural knowledge.


Is the use of Khan Academy to improve conceptual understanding, procedural knowledge, and procedural flexibility in the math core having impact on individual students’ math performance and district-wide math performance? Los Altos School District says yes! Learn more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shantanu-sinha/does-khan-academy-really-_b_946969.html

The absence of feedback to students during skill acquisition promotes the traditional student role of spectator. Learning is not a spectator sport. A steady stream of feedback is like an effective coach — who says, “You’re invaluable to the learning experience” and “My role is to help you acquire decision competence — control over making better decisions based on improved performance.”

Author: Suraj Syal, Coordinator, Utah Personnel Development Center

What an exciting time to be a new special education teacher in Granite School District. Why? Because Granite has sustained for over a decade an evidence-based three-year comprehensive induction program to support special education teachers who are new to the district.

Our goal in Granite is to provide support to new teachers through ongoing, buy information pills job- embedded coaching. Research indicates that providing quality instructional coaching in the first three years directly relates to student outcomes and teacher retention.

The expectation is that all new teachers will use researched-based and district-approved curriculum and teaching strategies. What does this support look like? All new special education teachers participate in a week of professional development prior to the beginning of school. During this week, seek teachers receive instruction in curriculum, site behavioral strategies, professional responsibilities, assessment and instructional strategies.

For three consecutive years, teachers receive differentiated monthly professional development. These trainings are specific to curriculum and behavior needs of the teachers. Each year builds upon the training of the previous year. Teachers’ skills continue to improve and at the end of the three years, and they are on the road to becoming master teachers.


To transfer the professional development into meaningful implementation, Granite assigns two specialists released full-time to support new teachers. All Granite specialists support teachers with curriculum, behavior, and compliance. Their primary focus is coaching teachers through their first three years of teaching.

How, do we do all of this?”  We use research-based coaching strategies such as instructional coaching, side-by-side coaching and modeling.  Our goal is three to four coaching visits per month per teacher.  The frequency of the coaching visits helps to develop a trusting relationship between the coach and the teacher. The role of a coach might vary depending on the new teacher’s needs. Coaches help teachers locate curriculum, write IEPs, adjust schedules, model lessons and they conduct classroom observations in order to provide feedback based on data. Using the instructional coaching model, they are able to use various tools to collect data and provide feedback to new teachers. Teachers use the feedback to make adjustments in teaching and programming for students.  Teachers feel supported and see how coaching benefits their teaching and also improves student success.


In addition to the Special Education Induction Program, teachers new to Granite District participate in the Great Beginnings Induction Program for all new teachers.  Here they are assigned a building mentor and can participate in additional professional development.

“Have, we accomplished our goal?”  YES!!!  Since the initiation of our induction program, we have seen an increase in teacher excellence, student achievement and teacher retention. We are continually revising our professional development and support as the needs of our district and teachers change.  Feedback from teachers to coaches is that they feel supported and valued. They also comment that the professional development is timely and meets their needs.  Any professional development that is provided to new teachers is followed up with coaching support by a district specialist.  An outcome of new teachers attending monthly professional development is that they become a cohesive, collaborative and supporting group. They contact each other for ideas, suggestions and provide support in their teaching.

Even during tough fiscal times, our leadership team is dedicated to sustaining a high level of coaching support for new teachers.  Coaching is considered an insurance plan that will pay off in dividends, both in the quality of service that our students receive, as well as in improving the retention of our incredible special education teaching staff.

Here is what one teacher new to Granite said, “…they want you to become a successful teacher and help you become one.”  And truly, this is what we want for all new teachers!

Authors: Catherine Johanson & Sharon Johnson, New Teacher Specialists, Granite School District



Recently, symptoms I had the opportunity to sit with Olene Walker, page Utah’s 15th Governor, in her lovely St. George home to talk about teacher leadership in education. She certainly understands and emulates leadership. Right away I knew I was talking to the right person. Her experience in politics includes positions on many committees and commissions, eight years with the state legislature, and she served as the Lieutenant Governor for Michael Leavitt. When he accepted a position in Washington, DC, she became Utah’s first and only female governor. Her work with education is impressive. She founded and served as the director of the Salt Lake Education Foundation. There she helped raise 30 million dollars in private funding for “Read With a Child,” an early literacy initiative. She continues to work with Education First, a citizens group dedicated to improving education accountability, innovation and investment. She also works with Prosperity 2020, the largest group of business leaders organized to improve educational outcomes in Utah. Her passion for education is evident to this very day and apparent as we talked. Our conversation was framed around this question: What insights do you have for educators as they assume leadership roles and responsibilities? Her candid responses serve as advice to anyone because leadership in education happens on many levels – within the classroom, in PLC groups, school administration, or beyond. Here is an opportunity to learn from her experience.

During our conversation, Olene talked about the power of influence. “Indeed, one person can make a difference,” referring to examples of Lincoln and Gandhi. Both experienced resistance and persistence yet, they were recognized leaders because of their personal commitments. Then she carefully pointed out, “Leadership is about the one who cares and can get people working together – not necessarily [being] the most verbal.” A leader knows the importance of relationships. They work with others when the issues are varied. Strong commitments and principles can be shared respectfully.

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The power of teamwork and collaboration came through over and over again in Olene’s responses. You have to look beyond. Leadership is not about the individual, “Leadership is about motivating others to work as a team.” As educators work to promote change in their work setting, look for those who can help in your endeavors. Create a team to help. Olene reiterated, “Leadership mandates a team.” Sometimes through the course of working through an issue, new information can prompt you to change your position. Does that make you less effective? No. “When you change an idea because you have been enlightened, you are still a leader.” Get all the data and/or information and learn all you can – on any topic. That is what leaders do – work as a team, look at the data, and move forward in the needed direction. Educators demonstrate leadership when they reach out to others and work together. Olene offers this suggestion, “Build capacity around you.” There is logic in bringing people along.  In his book, Rethinking the Future, Roland Gibson said about leaders, “They will gather around them people who have the future in their bones.”

The next bit of advice for educators was most poignant. We shared our concerns – just as educators do when they sit in faculty rooms talking to one another. “Education, and education funding seems locked into the old ways.” The result of our funding problem was recently published in The Salt Lake Tribune. “Utah would have to spend an additional $365 million a year to move out of last place for per-pupil funding, and $2.6 billion to reach the national average, legislative fiscal analysts told lawmakers…” The lack of money is a problem not easily solved. Legislative commitment and priorities are always changing. What is her advice for educators and the profession? Stay informed. Support “better policies – sound policies.” Look within you and look beyond to affect the change you want to make – with any situation.

After the interview, I sat down with The Teacher Leader Model Standards (TLMS), a nationally recognized set of standards that promote teacher leadership. I wanted to see if Olene Walker’s ideas on leadership align with these standards. The answer? Yes, they do.  The TLMS include seven domains: (1) promoting a collaborative culture, (2) using research to improve practice, (3) promoting professional learning for continuous improvement, (4) facilitating improvements, (5) using data to drive improvement, (6) reaching out to families and community, and (7) advocate for student learning and the profession. The Teacher Leadership Consortium “invites the profession, the public, and stakeholders to engage in dialogue about the various forms and dimensions of teacher leadership as well as the variety of contexts in which teacher leadership can be vital to serving the needs of students, schools, and the teaching profession.” It’s worth repeating for education’s sake. Look within you and look beyond.

Author: Peggy Childs, Specialist, UPDC (Utah Personnel Development Center)


Gibson, Rowan. (1996). Reframing the Future. London, Nicholas Brealey Publishing London.

Schencker, Lisa. (2013, May 22). To exit last place in per-pupil funding, Utah would need to spend $365M more a year. The Salt Lake Tribune. Retrieved from www.sltrib.com

Teacher Leadership Exploratory Consortium. (2011, June). Model standards advance the profession. Journal of Staff Developers. Retrieved from www.learningforward.org