So I just got off the phone with a potential client who said this to me in the middle of the call, “What I’d really like you to do is lead a discussion on a chapter of a book that we’re reading. And then if you could tie it back to the Title I workshop that we attended a few weeks back, that’d be great.”
I have to say, I was a bit perplexed by this because the reason this person called me in the first place was because they were in Year 3 of school improvement and it just didn’t seem like the most important thing to do was to read a chapter and discuss it. Or even to tie the discussion to a workshop.
First off, lots of our clients are in school improvement or heading there – that’s why they call us. So that fact wasn’t as striking. The most striking part of that request was this: they were going to TALK about doing stuff, but they weren’t interested in DOING stuff.
Now, I happen to know that this person who contacted me is a very good administrator with lots of great feedback from other colleagues (that’s how we got in touch with each other). I know that he is very motivated and interested in doing the right thing – and, most importantly, is interested in doing right by the kids. They just haven’t quite figured out what, of the work they should be doing, is going to have the biggest impact on kids.
Essentially, they are stuck in the “we’ve got to get some more professional development before we can do it” mode. It’s almost like schools in this position need a “blessing” from a trainer, presenter or author to do exactly what they already know they need to do. I felt like during the conversation, though, he knew exactly what his school needed to be doing. I can kinda relate to needing an “expert” to confirm what I already know.
Let me explain…
Awhile ago, we decided to create a new website – one that would be way more interactive, user friendly and one that could be updated multiple times a day without a web designer. So, we went looking for “the best” in the field.
And we found her.
We started the long, arduous (but also fun!) process of getting our website together – content, graphics, themes, colors, etc. About two weeks in, things started to seem kind of “off” – the communication was breaking down, some of our tried-and-true ideas were getting shot down even though our guts told us it was the right thing to do. Ultimately, we had to bid farewell to this web designer and pinch hit with another to finish the job. It wasn’t going to work.
It was a mess, but here was the deal: Just because we weren’t web designing experts, didn’t mean we didn’t know what we needed and what was going to be right for our readers and clients. In fact, we DID know, we just needed input and ideas from the experts to COMPLEMENT what we already knew to be true and necessary. We needed help (along with solid input) putting our plan into action.
The big idea is this: books, trainers and experts are useful IF YOU KNOW YOURSELF AND WHAT YOU NEED.
AND you don’t have to wait for experts or authors to “bless” your school improvement ideas before you get started…sometimes the experts are there to birth an idea for you or get you unstuck along the way to your final goal. Most of us can get stuck in the realm of GETTING STARTED. And sometimes we need a push into action.
So as I meandered through the call with the potential client I basically said this, “Do you REALLY want me to come and lead a book study that you could lead on your own? Or do you need help translating all of your PD and all of your readings into ACTION?”
Well, let’s just say, I’m on a plane in a few months to help them get started and put it into action…
So we’re back to the question: how can I improve schools as we head into 2013?
The other question is: WHERE ON EARTH DID 2012 GO? I wish I could answer that one for ya, but I’ll stick to the improving schools question – I’ll have a higher likelihood of actually answering something!
Actually, the answer to the “how can we improve our school?” question is pretty simple: Look at your data.
I know, I know…it’s my JOB to tell you to look at the data. But I don’t want you to just look at it. I want you to TALK about it. Maybe even in a way that you haven’t before.
Here’s what it might sound like if I were sitting next to you at your next grade level team meeting:
“Ok guys…I have one big question I want to ask you and we’re going to spend at least 1 hour discussing and charting what we know. Here’s the question: How do we KNOW that we were successful in 2012?
The follow up question to that is ‘what EVIDENCE do we have (well beyond a gut check or feeling) that we did things well?'”
What I find is that we are so busy talking about WHAT we did, that we often forget to even discuss WHAT HAPPENED because of what we did. And here’s the big hitch in the whole thing: If what you were doing was working, the scores would reflect it.
You see, here’s a thought I have a lot: Teachers who are well prepped, are excellent deliverers and use their data every day to help them bob and weave through their teaching day are ALWAYS looking at what THEY can do to improve the scores. (Notice I didn’t say “improve the teaching” – inherent in “improving the scores” is altering the teaching in some way).
What I also know is that teachers who are struggling to get the scores that are expected of them or the kids bob and weave and are looking at the KIDS and the factors that are completely unrelated to their own performance. Excuses, excuses, excuses!
So, when you’re asking the question How do we KNOW that we were successful in 2012, we’re really focusing on several things:
- Our performance as teachers (and this IS the thing that we have most control over!)
- The data (we can’t answer the “how do we KNOW” part without referring to and using the data)
- Taking responsibility (we are not waiting for ‘the test’ or ‘the benchmark’ to evaluate how well we did, we are focusing on all of the other data that we have – which is PLENTY for reflection)
One of the things that I’m most passionate about is that we avoid “romancing the problem” (focusing on the same thing over and over and over and over again without making real moves to change it) and that we ask the right questions that lead to real alterations in our teaching that lead to real results. This question gets you right on the path to action and lets you leave pining for “what should be” behind. (And, oh lordy, we need to leave that behind!)
So, I encourage you to bring this question to your next staff meeting, PLC, coaching interaction, classroom debriefing or administrative meeting and see if it doesn’t propel your conversation to a different level by focusing on what we KNOW, not what we THINK.
How do we KNOW that we were successful in 2012?
Go strong into 2013 guys…we’ve got this!!!!
For those of you who know me, you know I’m obsessed with simple goals that lead to big results. In fact, I just guest authored a blog over the holidays where the basic premise was this: we have everything we need, we just need to to simply and faithfully use it!
So, the fact that it’s 2013 already (gulp!) and we’ve got to get started on our big plans, tells me that the goals don’t mean a thing unless we have a route to get to ’em!
So, what we’ve been using regularly with our clients is a very simple 3-tiered goal setting sheet. (I’ve scanned in the copy of one I was just sending my client in preparation for our upcoming work together!
Basically, what we do to create our pathway for success is set goals that are broad and then funnel very tightly down into personal goals to be implemented right there in the classrooms. Annnnnnnnd…voila! Goals are met!
So, where do you get started?
One of our clients chose, “Every classroom will increase student engagement by 15% in the first trimester” as Goal #1 for “Program Implementation Goals”. Then each site got together and mirrored their goal #1 from the district’s #1 goal at the very top. One of the schools made their site goal, “We will implement 2 main structures 5xs each daily in order to increase our student engagement in reading and math: Think, pair, share and response journals”.
Then after each site makes their site instructional goals, each individual teacher then creates his or her personal goal related to the district and site goal.
Here’s the cool thing: Without focusing on 10 zillion different things, EVERYONE is working toward the same goal!
The other cool thing: The work is TAILORED to the site and the individual teacher so that we’re not duplicating work that has already been done or missing big pieces because we’ve avoided customized goals
Yet another cool thing: The work is tailored to reach directly into the classroom with the students. Too many reforms are focused “above” the classroom and never funnel in. By ensuring that individual teachers make goals, we’re reaching right there into the student level – and that’s where the action all happens, anyway!
The other cool thing? Critical mass – -the “spectacle” that arises when everyone is doing the same thing – – it creates momentum of its own. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Now, I know some of our readers are thinking, “But WAIT – we have 10,000 goals on our school improvement plans…how does focusing on 3 areas help us meet all 10,000?” Here’s my answer to that: quality over quantity. Period. I’d also offer this advice: doing small things well is contagious – once you get that “I did it!” feeling, you have more energy and confidence tackling the next thing!
So…where are YOU starting? Talk to me! 🙂
I have to break it to you now, the “Three R’s” need to be replaced with this: read write learn. And here are 5 quick-take-away reasons why:
- The ultimate test of reading skill is whether students are gaining knowledge and information, this demonstrates the read write think idea! It’s critically important that they’re able to WRITE about what they’ve read as a vehicle for explaining and connecting to what they’ve learned! Our reading skills tests tell us whether kids have the necessary underlying skills, but the big comprehension of text and the taking in of important and relevant information will be witnessed in their writing.
- Students need to be reading the RIGHT material. I see so many kids getting points on Accelerated Reader programs and they’re really excited about what they’re reading (which is important!). But the problem is, the text is rarely challenging enough and, ultimately, there is little connecting to the knowledge that kids should be taking with them after reading the text. Big, important comprehension isn’t measured by silent reading and quick-tests alone!
- True learning takes place when students are able to simultaneously decode, comprehend, think about and CONNECT what they’re learning to other relevant topics and previous readings. In other words – get TALKING about what they’ve read, what they’re reading and what they want to learn more about in future text.
- Writing about what you’ve read requires re-writing and editing. And during re-writing and editing of writing, it’s common to GO BACK INTO THE TEXT! Study after study has shown that re-reading text is critical for comprehension. Sooooo…the simple task of editing our writing and going back in the text that inspired the writing is strengthening comprehension. Two bird with one stone, I would say!
- Ultimately, we need to extend our students’ current understanding of what comprehension really is and that it goes beyond ‘answering some questions after I read’. In fact, comprehension of reading needs to include regular and habitual reading, writing, discussing, revising of ideas and written response, rereading, discussing some more…well, you get the point. Answering a few “who, what, where, when, why” questions is critical to begin with and to establish simple retell, but it won’t take kids all the way into deep comprehension. And deep comprehension is critical for our students’ success.
Before you go…consider this quote from my favorite researcher. 🙂
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!
So, it’s that time of year when I start to look at what I want my 2013 to look like…and my one major goal is to really to boost my expert-level knowledge by exponentially improving my educational reading library. All done in one click on Amazon – ha!
Here’s what dictionary.com says about what an “expert” is – and BOY do I want to continue to be one!
I WILL BE a person with special skill. I WILL BE a person with special knowledge in a particular field. I WILL receive the highest rating in my field. I WILL BE all of these things, BUT I have to do it through practice and training – – – and I’m starting 2013 by getting PUMPED UP on these resources by true experts in our field! (Most importantly, I’m continuing to practice what I preach – – -and I’m excited about it!)
Executive Intelligence: What All Great Leaders Have
Effective Supervision: Supporting the Art and Science of Teaching
Robert J. Marzano, et al
The SAGE Handbook of Educational Leadership: Advances in Theory, Research, and Practice
Fenwick W. English
Making the Grade: Reinventing America’s Schools
Tony Wagner, Thomas Vander Ark
Leaders of Learning: How District, School, and Classroom Leaders Improve Student Achievement
Richard DuFour, Robert J. Marzano
Just checking to see if you were paying attention.…!
“Never become so much of an expert that you stop gaining expertise. View life as a continuous learning experience.”
– Denis Waitley