Monday, November 21, 2016

Be the Change Leader Your School Needs

In 4 Things Change Leaders Do Well, Douglas Ready outlines successful transformational strategies for the corporate world. And I believe they are just as applicable to education.

1. Recognize Embedded Tensions and Paradoxes

For every push in education, there is a pull. Many of our highly effective teachers (and our parent stakeholders) are the products of a system that is rooted in the 1890s. When we talk about changing the system or that the system is "broken," we need to be mindful that it did work for many in a different time and space.

In addition, identity is often at issue. If we propose something as a "change," we may unintentionally be inferring that the "before" was bad. It may be better to look at transformation as an improvement, without any judgment on past practices. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, when we know better we do better.

2. Hold Everyone Accountable

Not only does everyone need to be engaged in the transformation, but they need to be accountable for its success, too. Great change leaders set and communicate clear expectations, and provide ample support to reach those expectations. Celebrate successes, and don't let anyone off the hook. Accepting bad behavior is the quickest way to kill an initiative.

3. Invest in New Capabilities

What new talent, processes, or systems do we need to be successful? As we hire new teachers and administrators, what qualities and skills are we looking for to take us to the next level? Do we need new processes and systems to ensure that this occurs? If so, let's get them in place. We don't need more "managers," we need authentic instructional leaders at all levels.

Once we have the right people in the right spots, are there other strategic investments we need to make vis-a-vis "hard" resources?

4. Emphasize Continuous Learning

No one knows everything. I repeat: no one knows everything. And in a field as dynamic as education, even if you did, you couldn't keep up with new knowledge. Educators need to feel at ease with asking for help, and admitting when something is not known. You know, just like we tell our students ;)

Hiring top-notch instructional leaders is only the start. We must invest in the professional learning of all educators. Not the one-offs that are fun and make people feel good for a half day, but the real, deep, sustained job-embedded learning that truly challenges and changes the way educators think and act.


Join the conversation...
What do you think? Are these strategies applicable in education? How might you be the change leader your school needs?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Survey Says...

One of my favorite shows is Family Feud, with Steve Harvey as host. My son and I watch it together, and just laugh -- you know, the gut-wrenching kind of laughs? Usually, we're laughing at Steve's reactions to answers given by contestants:


I've often wondered how the show designed its surveys and implemented them. Apparently, The Wall Street Journal also had the same wondering, and published Family Feud Finds Survey Niche back in 2008. The actual size of each survey question is only 100 people, and random phone calls are made to solicit answers. That is a very small sample size, but for its purpose, the system works well.

Tomorrow, the students I work with at Forest Hills Northern High School will be pushing out their student voice survey to approximately 1,100 students. The questions were completely written by students, and beta tested by them for clarity and focus. By surveying the entire school, the students hope that the responses provide them with workable data.

As we have neared the day of the survey, we've been learning more about how to use data in storytelling. In other words, having all that data come into a Google spreadsheet is great, but what we do with it is even more important. How might we use the data to amplify student voice, and promote real student-driven change?

Chances are some of the answers will surprise us; heck, we may even have Steve's look. But just as Steve uses humor to interact with the data on Family Feud, we will need to find methods or avenues to engage with our data, and make our audience sit up and take notice.

One resource we have used to help us get ready to be data storytellers is this amazing TEDxTalk by Ben Wellington:


Wellington's ability to take what appear just to be numbers and turn them into an incredible visual story (with an impact) is inspiring. And easy to follow. 

I'll follow up in another post as to what we found in the data, and how our story is unfolding. Until then...

Join the conversation...
How do you use survey or other data to tell your story?


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

When we try new things that challenge the teaching and learning status quo, we are also challenging the experiences of our students' adult family members. When it doesn't look or sound the same, it can be intimidating. 

Sometimes we hear:
"Hey, that is the way I learned, and it was good enough for me. Why mess with success?"
"I want to like it, but is this going to hurt her chance of getting into a good school?"
Many times our stakeholders are conflicted between the objective, intellectual understanding of why change is positive, and the subjective, emotional side of how the change feels. This begs the question...
While you may be loved as an innovating educator today, will that still be true tomorrow when teaching, learning, and assessment shift to a place without context?
Last evening I took part in parent/teacher conferences at Forest Hills Northern, the site of our student voice project. Earlier blog posts detail our launch of a student-led school improvement process. During the open house back in the first week of school, parents were supportive of the project, and I wondered if that would still hold true 9 weeks into the school year. After all, there are no quizzes or tests to produce points and letter grades -- it is participatory action research -- so how might we demonstrate deep levels of learning? We were delighted to see that the support was still present, especially for the real-world learning students were achieving. But, I would be less than honest if I did not mention that parents asked about letter grades and the format of a final exam/assessment.

We need to be mindful about how we gain and retain support from our stakeholders for innovative projects. So far, these guidelines have worked in our student voice work:

1. Communicate, communicate, communicate. You cannot over-communicate.
2. Be transparent about the intended student learning outcomes, and how they relate to real-world learning.
3. Communicate actual student learning outcomes. 

When we focus on the learning results of our students, and consistently communicate that message, we bring our stakeholders -- and more support -- along with us. I believe they want to support us, and they will when we interact with them as full partners.

Join the conversation...
How have you engaged stakeholders to support innovative teaching and learning projects? What guidelines might you add to the list?