Our school system is often asked to present on how we implemented professional learning communities. Recently, we have had a number of visitors come to look at our work with PLCs and we are engaged with the American Productivity Quality Council in a benchmark study of PLCs. This blog may help those of you who are starting on this journey. Our key finding is that you have to change behaviors before you will change beliefs. So.. if you have the authority to implement a high impact strategy, then my advice is to get about the job of doing it and requiring products.
In ISS, our work in professional learning communities has been founded on the work of Rick and Rebecca DuFour. One of the key components of their work is the use of common formative assessments. In ISS, our teamwork matrix requires teachers to serve on one professional learning community that has the same curriculum and the teachers are required to develop common formative assessments every four weeks. The research base supporting common formative assessments is immense and very convincing. The DuFour’s offer a number of reasons why teachers should utilize common formative assessments.
One issue that has arisen with regard to common formative assessments relates to grading practices. Some argue that CFA’s should not be part of grading if they are truly formative and others argue that in order to make certain students provide their best efforts the CFA’s need to have some connection to grading. The following are identified as best practice for use of CFA’s;
As a superintendent, I realize that grading practices are the ultimate domain of teachers and principals; however, I encourage all of our professional learning communities to review the research on common formative assessment, grading practices, and professional learning communities. The research is strong and professional organizations unanimously support these ideas and practices. Bottom line – implementing these practices with fidelity will improve student learning.
The hype over the Christensen book Disrupting Class has been interesting. I found the book to be on target with the potential disruption of virtual learning, however, I did not completely agree with some of the support for charter schools and recommended changes for educational research. Nevertheless, I wanted to support the virtual learning. Over the course of the last few weeks I have saved the school district significant dollars by engaging in webinars and virtual meetings. Using something as simple as GoToMeeting.com or something more complex like Blackboard or Wimba, I have been able to continue my learning as a superintendent and conduct business without leaving my office!!!
One highlight of the recent week was a one hour webinar with Doug Reeves. Over the course of an hour, I was able to get up-to-date on his research projects, ask him a question with a direct answer, and hear what other superintendents across the nation are asking. Now to share a few of the highlights from the Doug Reeves webinar so I can use virtual methods to share learning with other educators. To create the change in schools that we need to see happen, Dr. Reeves suggested several approaches. I want to focus on two approaches that our school system has found to be essential.
1 – Monitoring of what adults do with a focus on no more than 6 objectives. In our school system we have customized classroom walkthroughs that look for examples of Plan Do Study Act cycle, student engagement, High Yield Instructional Strategies, and examples of Positive Behavior Support program implementation. Also, we monitor and coach school and department improvement plans on a quarterly basis and tie the results to evaluations. Dr. Reeves went on to say that while parent engagement and professional development are important, schools will not see increases in student achievement unless there is adult monitoring for fidelity of deployment of expectations of the approaches.
2 – Education is a revenue source rather than a drain on communities’ resources. Given the financial crisis that we are all facing, Dr. Reeves suggested that we all need to be advocates for the ability of education to actually save resources and produce resources. We could save our communities billions of dollars nationwide if we could reduce dropout rates. For more information and resources to develop your own approach to being an advocate, see the Alliance for Excellent Education web site at www.all4ed.org.
So… there we have it. I used a virtual method to pass on learning that I received from a virtual method that you can then use to gain information to help you develop your own follow ups that I hope you will deliver through virtual means like your blogs!!!! I have been kidding everyone around central office lately that I truly believe I can become a virtual superintendent!!!!!
What if we eliminated the traditional school system organizational chart? What if we really looked carefully at this enterprise called public education through the lens of process management?
I know many of you are probably saying we have our process model well defined. You are probably thinking that we have been down that road and we have the t-shirt. Many of you use ISO, Baldrige, Six Sigma, process flow maps, DMAIC and other improvement strategies. If all of this sounds strange to you, then there may be hope!!
Our school system had been down most of these roads and we have some successes and some failures. Currently, we have started a national project with the American Productivity Quality Council in Houston, Texas to look at process management architecture to help improve K-12 public education.
As a Baldrige alumni examiner and a Six Sigma supporter, I thought I really understood processes. Our school system had flow mapped over 100 processes. We have in-process measures linked to strategic measures. However, what I am discovering is that I knew just enough to be dangerous. I have a number of examples where working on the measures of one process have actually negatively impacted other processes. Working on processes while continuing to manage the organization through a function based organization chart often leads to fragmentation, lack of alignment, and unintended consequences.
With a process management approach, our school system is moving away from a traditional function centered organization into a process centered organization. Why? We are achieving student learning results among the best in North Carolina while spending at a rate among the lowest in North Carolina.
If you want to know more about the APQC K-12 process management initiative, look on their web site or send me an e-mail and I will send you information. (email@example.com). A great resource is also Michael Hammer's work on re-engineering processes.
As I sat watching the Democratic Convention last night I was particularly interested in the “town hall” forum being held. Some of the discussions were about education. Education has not been high on any presidential candidate’s agenda and does not appear to be moving up on the national agenda. However, the Democratic Convention seems to have 2 competing education groups. One is the Education Equality Project (www.educationequalityproject.org) and the other is the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (www.boldapproach.org). The Equality project focuses more on accountability and closing gaps while the Bold Approach project focuses on a comprehensive approach to social issues as part of the education solution. The general principles from both are listed below. As educators, I think we need to know what the presidential candidates and their respective party platforms plan for public education in our nation.
Education Equality Project Principles (excerpts)
From excerpts about Broader Bolder Approach
1. Continued school improvement efforts. To close achievement gaps, we need to reduce class sizes in early grades for disadvantaged children; attract high-quality teachers in hard-to-staff schools; improve teacher and school leadership training; make college preparatory curriculum accessible to all; and pay special attention to recent immigrants.
2. Developmentally appropriate and high-quality early childhood, pre-school and kindergarten care and education. These programs must not only help low-income children academically, but provide support in developing appropriate social, economic and behavioral skills.
3. Routine pediatric, dental, hearing and vision care for all infants, toddlers and schoolchildren. In particular, full-service school clinics can fill the health gaps created by the absence of primary care physicians in low-income areas, and by poor parents' inability to miss work for children's routine health services.
4. Improving the quality of students' out-of-school time. Low-income students learn rapidly in school, but often lose ground after school and during summers. Policymakers should increase investments in areas such as longer school days, after-school and summer programs, and school-to-work programs with demonstrated track records.
Not too long ago, school boards hired superintendents based on their ability to maintain status quo. Measures of performance were low teacher turnover, positive satisfaction numbers, and keeping the community happy with the football team's performance. The overriding mantra for this period of time was - "If it ain't broke then don't fix it." Things have really gone in a different direction with the emphasis on "waves of educational reform" that have been happening since at least the late 60's (that is far back as I admit to being employed in education!!)
Today, school superintendents and principals have to be successful managers and leaders of change. The overriding mantra today is "If you keep doing what you have always done you will get the results you have always gotten." Einstein said it was insanity to keep doing what we always have done and expect different results.
The ultimate change guru in our current educational research base is Michael Fullan. I heard Dr. Fullan recently at the AASA meeting in Tampa. Dr. Fullan has two books out that are a good read for those of us expected to lead and manage change or for those teachers or parents who want to understand why administrators do the things they do. Dr. Fullan has updated his classic - What's Worth Fighting for in the Principalship and has a new book - Six Secrets of Change.
Just to give readers a hint at the change secrets, Dr. Fullan gave a presentation on the changes and promised a copy of the powerpoint at his web site - www.michaelfullan.ca
#1 - Love your employees - focus not only on student and customer satisfaction, but, also create schools and districts that focus on quality of life for teachers and administrators
#2 - Connect peers with purpose - top down doesn't work, bottom up doesn't work, need to have a blended and partnership approach
#3 - Capacity building trumps judgmentalism - assume staff do not have capacity to implement changes when things are not working and then build capacity
#4 - Learning is the work - for everyone... including school boards - professional development must be delivered within context and supported on the job - for every hour of PD, need 7 hours of coaching, deployment, and mentoring
#5 - Transparency - things can't be improved if we don't know about them
#6 - Systems Learn - move from systems thinking to systems DOING!! You don't change beliefs, you first change behaviors. So start doing and don't wait until you have it perfect. You learn from making excellent mistakes.
Recently, I had the opportunity to hear Ted Hasselbring, Professor of Special Education, Peabody College at Vanderbilt. Dr. Hasselbring developed Read 180 which is a reading intervention program that we use in Iredell Statesville Schools. The following bullets are highlights from Dr. Hasselbring's speech.
What should happen with information and training like this? The actual use of this information and research could go a long way in helping more children read and be successful. In our school system teachers are expected to work in teams at least one hour per week and look at common assessment of student progress to learn how children are progressing. Many of our teachers will find that struggling readers are the children that are not successful. All of our teams of teachers are then expected to develop strategies to provide interventions for these students who are struggling and challenges for those students who are meeting or exceeding expectations. These meetings take time. A few of our teachers resent the use of this time or they spend the time in these meetings complaining about having to meet. Teachers say they need this time to plan. However, the synergy of the group with the appropriate use of data and research on best instructional strategies will always create better PLANS than individual teacher plans.
Do you ever have one of those days where you finally think you have it figured out?? Do you ever have one of those days where you think you are the only one in the gallery that is getting it?? Do you ever have one of those days that your life finally makes sense?? Well I’ve yet to have one of those days, but today came close.
I was attending a North Carolina Public School Forum Board of Directors meeting. This group has led the way in North Carolina for many years. This group is responsible for many of the excellent programs that NC has in place to improve education. The group is a wonderful blend of legislators, educators, business and non-profit that has been emulated across the country.
This evening we had a presentation from the Chief Operating Officer of the Research Triangle Park that is located between Durham and Raleigh, North Carolina. Research Triangle Park is one of the fastest growing regions in the nation and is creating a tremendous amount of jobs for the future. I went into the meeting thinking that I was going to hear another business person tell educators what a terrible job we were doing.
Before I attended the evening session I reviewed a wonderful video on the lack of creativity in public education. Ken Robinson presents a powerful case for changing education as we know it today. The link is - http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/66.
So, what do these two have in common? The answer is me. I have lived in two worlds for many years. As a former band director and musician, I was constantly immersed in the world of creativity. Jazz music requires creativity. The marching bands of today require creativity. I continue today (even after 36 years of educational employment) to judge band contests that require long hours at very low pay. Why? I enjoy the creativity and enthusiasm of the students and directors as they create a powerful art form.
The other world that I am immersed in is that of school superintendent and member of numerous state commissions that are looking at education reform recommendations for our General Assembly. The two worlds seem to conflict and I am often polarized between creativity and logic. Tonight, I finally figured out the answer. Rick and Becky DuFoor tells us the answer – it is the beauty of “and” vs. the tyranny of “or.”
Tonight I asked the question - If the jobs of the future require creativity and innovation, how can we continue to promote basic skills testing requirements that seem to hamper creativity and certainly limit the innovation of technology? The answer has to be both. We must ensure that students have basic levels of competency in math, science, reading, technology, and citizenship. However, we must figure out how to assess these skills in innovative and creative ways that utilize technology. I keep reading these blogs and articles that promote one over the other. I keep hearing politicians that support basic skills. We must come together and figure this out. We must prepare our children for the future they will face, not the future that we imagine. The leaders of schools and school systems of the future will be preparing children for an age that we cannot imagine. Deming said we are preparing messengers for at time that we will not see. Let’s involve the students in preparing for that future and not limit ourselves to the past that we know. End the debate of “or” and work toward the conciliatory nature of “and.” Good luck and when you get the answers, let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.