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Builder’s Lab Workshop Gives Principals Tools to Build Master Teachers

The LANL Foundation works to inspire excellence in education and learning in Northern New Mexico through innovative programming, collaboration and advocacy. The evolving K–12 Program office and Inquiry Science Education Consortium (ISEC) team have gone beyond the delivery of a robust inquiry STEM learning program to offer strategies and best practices that can work toward bringing systemic change to the culture of education in local schools. One such training opportunity was The Builder’s Lab held in Arlington, VA on January 29–31, 2018.

K–12 Program Director Gwen Perea Warniment, ISEC Program Manager David Call, and the ISEC professional development team of Danielle Gothie, Dave Forester and Doris Rivera, traveled to the Washington D.C. area on a quest for learning and leadership that can be applied to their work in education. The team also invited and paid for six influential leaders from local schools to join them. These leaders were chosen in honor of their commitment to the ISEC program.

Brenda Korting, Nava Elementary School Principal;
Jack Lain, El Camino Real Academy Principal;
Dawn Salazar Tierra Amarilla Elementary School Principal;
Mario Vigil, Pojoaque Sixth Grade Academy Principal;
Vanessa Romero, Executive Director of Principal Leadership at Santa Fe Public Schools; and
Channell Wilson-Segura, Executive Director of Principal Leadership at Santa Fe Public Schools.

L to R: Danielle Gothie, David Call, Robyn Jackson, Jack Lane, Brenda Korting, Gwen Perea Warniment & Dave Forester

“I wanted to honor the principals who have partnered with us, trusted us, and allowed us to do the deep work of student-centered coaching in their schools,” said Gwen. “We recognize that systemic transformation and culture are largely in the minds of our principals and we want to holistically support them.”

The Builder’s Lab was a three-day immersive workshop led by Robyn Jackson, a former middle-school administrator and master teacher who is now an educational consultant and owner of Mindsteps Inc. With her experience steeped in the challenges and opportunities in learning environments, she is now helping school districts around the world transform educators into master teachers through a systems-based approach.

The Impact

The Builder’s Lab name comes from a simple distinction that schools need “buildership” rather than traditional leadership, which is less effective and synonymous with directive, hegemonic and dictatorial. The system and strategies taught at the workshop allow principals to create, design and build learning organizations through a collaborative and transformative process that utilizes the resources already at hand.

The premise of the workshop was to understand how four key components contribute to successful school change: culture, feedback, support and accountability. 

What would change in schools and teacher roles if principals moved from leadership to “buildership”? A Builder goes out ahead, starts working on the vision & framework, showing others the way. As others see it materialize, they follow and join with the freedom to become builders too, without having to conceptualize.

“Robyn inspired us to find clarity in our core values and challenged us to go back to staff to assess and reassess those values,” said Danielle. “Then she asked the group to think about one goal we want to focus on through our work going forward.”

During the last day of the workshop, each principal created a plan around that big, audacious goal—a north star at the center of the four disciplines—and a strategy to build the school of their vision. The power of this work is in the transformation that occurs from an asset-based approach that values each teacher where they are, builds upon their strengths and begins with personal accountability at all levels.

Principal Jack Lain was particularly reinvigorated by the experience. “I am excited to begin the building process that will support transformation of El Camino Real Academy. I appreciated Robyn’s practical sensibility to build a successful school with the resources given. I keep thinking of her opening comments about how too often we convince ourselves that the success of schools is contingent on more money or better teachers, rather than working with the resources we have using “blue prints” and root-cause analysis.”

Reflection & Learning Opportunities

Later in March, during a Santa Fe Public Schools principals’ meeting and a second gathering of principals from northern ISEC districts held at the LANL Foundation, workshop attendees shared their experiences with their peers. Buildership concepts were met with great enthusiasm, including:

Personal reflection
Leadership challenges
Stages of rigor
Balance of will and skill
Builder’s Blueprint
Effective teacher observations through “micro-slicing”

Above: Santa Fe principals’ meeting.

Above: Northern principals’ meeting

Recognizing the potential impact of this work not only in ISEC schools but also across the broader programmatic spectrum of the LANL Foundation, the K–12 Program office brought Robyn Jackson and The Builder’s Lab to Northern New Mexico. Public school principals and teacher leaders from districts in the LANL Foundation’s seven-county service area were invited to attend the free local workshop held June 5–8, 2018, at the Hilton Buffalo Thunder.

“This training gives you a variety of ways to approach staff in a way that is going to really serve them and support their excellence.”
—Bernadette Archuleta, El Rito Elementary School

“I think we all really want to be builders, because a builder gets into the grassroots of things in order to empower people’s greatness. It’s very inspiring.” –Principal Julie Gutierrez and Assistant Principal Robert Quinonez, Carlos F. Vigil Middle School

Below: Local Builder’s Lab event with Robyn Jackson and education leaders from Española, Pojoaque, Cuba, Los Alamos, Mesa Vista, Santa Fe and Ohkay Owingeh schools.