If you were to take a five-year vacation from your current school district, you would hope that “things” would look noticeably different upon your return…But would they?
The Potential Problem
Would all the glaring differences be worth the time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears? Or, would things look very much the same, despite the daily (and sometimes painful) grind experienced by so many educators?
Progress takes place if/when we are intentional about making it happen, not when the majority of our time is spent on daily managerial tasks with a few forward-thinking ideas sprinkled in arbitrarily.
The previous thoughts, ideas, and questions came to me a few weeks ago while I was conversing with my Superintendent…To be honest, I find it scary that countless hours of dedicated work time, if spent unwisely, can have little to no sustainable impact on a school/district.
If our rewards are far exceeded by our costs, we need to work smarter, not harder.
Here are three ways to promote noticeable progress:
- Define Your Vision for Instruction: Has everyone been made aware of the “look fors” that should be consistently integrated into classroom instruction? According to John Kotter, a vision (1) clarifies the general direction for change, (2) motivates people to take action in the right direction, and (3) helps coordinate the actions of different people. My current district is in the process of defining this vision by establishing what we want our classrooms to look like five years from now. Then, our professional learning experiences will be that much more purposeful because they will fall under the umbrella of these beliefs. In my former school district, a team collectively created a document with Fundamental Instructional Practices (FIPs), which helped in defining our “best practice” (differentiated instruction, higher-order questioning, student collaboration, etc.). The majority of professional learning involved these approaches in one way or another.
- “Less is More” Professional Development: A few days ago I was collaborating with a colleague from another district. She voiced her displeasure with the lack of guided reading taking place in elementary classrooms. While discussing potential solutions, I mentioned the option of temporarily ignoring the issue (for the most part) because it is not entirely related to her district’s current focus for professional learning. It is crucial we realize how difficult it can be to produce large-scale, sustainable change in classroom instruction, and have the discipline to not play Whac-A-Mole whenever a problem arises. According to Doug Reeves in Transforming Professional Development into Student Results, “Large-scale improvement is most likely to occur when a few school improvement initiatives are implemented deeply, not when a laundry list of initiatives is implemented in a scattershot manner” (p. 40).
- Just Say No: Think about everything you do on a daily basis and ask yourself if it is all completely mandatory. For most tasks, you are either doing it because (a) you have to or (b) because at an earlier point in time you (or someone else) were presented with a choice and your response was “Yes!”…Now, learn to say “No!” In Good to Great, Jim Collins emphasizes how successful organizations “create a ‘stop doing list’ and systematically unplug anything extraneous [that does not align with the current focus]” (p. 124). (This same approach can also be applied to the previous point on professional development.) As you and your school/district become more successful, plenty of attractive opportunities will present themselves. When deciding what to take on, ultimately what matters most is if your time could be better spent elsewhere.
In the End
It is easy to embrace the day-to-day grind, take care of problems as they arise, and convince ourselves progress is being made. While these managerial skills are important, I do believe that we must also make time to collectively decide where we are going and how to get there.
Do any of the three points resonate with you? How does you school/district intentionally move forward? What have you seen work in other schools/districts?
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