Monday, January 30, 2017

30 for 3

No, it's not a typo. And yes, it's a play on ESPN's "30 for 30" series.

Last Friday, 30 students from Forest Hills Northern High School spent 3 hours with teachers and administrators collaborating around school improvement. The students planned and facilitated the time as part of amplifying their student voices, using a model created by Mount Waverley Secondary College in Melbourne, Australia.

FHN has three school improvement goals for 2016-17: an increase in reading proficiency for all students, an increase in critical thinking skills for all students, and a minimum of one year of growth for all students. As you read through this post, you will see how the collaborative learning efforts focused in on all three.

The morning began with a 1/2 hour "soft start," as a way to build trust and relationships in an informal setting. A continental breakfast was provided, and staff were invited to enter the collaborative space at their choosing:

During this time, staff were also asked to think about where they perceived student voice currently resided in the school.

Once 7:45am hit, we had an official "hard start" to the next three hours. Students outlined the agenda and goals for the morning, intentionally utilizing a "what-why-how" for each section. Here, a student is taking the group through the Norms of Collaboration that guided the learning and work:

As the norms were discussed, the facilitator sought input from the large group on how those norms might look or sound in a classroom.

If you recall from an early blog post, the students drafted and sent out a survey to the entire student body. During Friday's collaborative time, staff were placed in carousel groups to experience a 10 minute data dive in each survey category (teaching & learning, technology, student well-being, and school structures). Here is one example, as staff experienced an interactive activity with the students in the well-being group:

The data dive with this group centered around the number of students who perceive that there is no adult in the school to whom they could approach with a problem. Students highlighted that they knew teachers cared, and dialogue took place on how a collaborative effort might demonstrate this to all students.

Once the carousel data dives were completed, staff were asked to vote on one issue to spend the remainder of the morning focused on. It was the issue of the inclusion of a seminar period in the school day, where students could achieve one or more of the following needs in a structured setting: 1) extra help in content where they are struggling; 2) explore passions and interests more deeply around a co-created curriculum; and 3) build supportive relationships with a specific teacher and a set group of peers. These support all three of FHN's school improvement goals, and touched upon survey data from both the student well-being and school structure dives.

Students and staff were purposefully re-grouped, and the next 75-90 minutes were spent developing a vision, using the Force Field protocol out of Gregory & Kuzmich's Teacher Teams That Get Results:

By the time the protocol was completed, lots of ideas -- with timelines and names of responsible persons -- were generated:

Members of each of the five groups will be checking back in with each other over the next month.

The students also sent an evaluation to the staff who collaborated with them, and some great "soundbites" were collected...

Students thoughts/feelings are not necessarily what I would have predicted.
Students have a lot to say and we need to listen more. 
It was fun and thought provoking to work with the students today. This is a dialogue that we should work in more frequently. Perhaps a seminar would be a vehicle to do just that. 
It is encouraging to see that students are passionate about the direction of schooling and the structure of how things are done. 

My year 12 colleagues and I will debrief later this week, and make plans for moving forward. In the meantime, if you're an educator and haven't asked students their thoughts about school lately, try it!

Join the conversation...
How have or might you amplify student voice in your school around school improvement?

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Pep Talk From Teddy Roosevelt

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a thing for TR. See, right there, I refer to him as TR, as if we are contemporaries. I have books, posters, postcards, coffee mugs, magnets, a finger puppet, a doll set (see above), and many other items of memorabilia.

Now, after reading an address he gave to the Iowa State Teachers' Association in 1910, my admiration has deepened even more. If you click the link and read the whole speech, remember the time period. Yes, it is sexist, and perhaps a bit nationalistic, but it's essence is golden:

There are a great many professions that are important, but of all the professions in the United States I think that there is no one quite so important to the country as a whole as is yours. There is no other profession which exercises so profound an influence upon the national growth, for you shape the whole course of the development of the nation of to-morrow.
                                              *              *                *
Great is your task, and therefore, thrice over are you to be congratulated because your task is great. Nothing in this world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. No kind of life is worth leading if it is always an easy life. I know that your life is hard; I know that your work is hard; and hardest of all for those of you who have the highest trained consciences, and who therefore feel always how much you ought to do. I know your work is hard, and that is why I congratulate you with all my heart. 

Doesn't that just sum up education innovation, too? Especially the "effort, pain, difficulty." Finding time to learn about new things and try them in small bites while continuing to do your absolute best day in and day out is exhausting.

And it is exhilarating! Which is why we keep coming back for more. I look at TR, a man who was shot during a speech two years after this one, and finished it before going to the hospital for medical treatment. Now, I'm not advocating effort that would be detrimental to your health, but I do think the zeal and enthusiasm with which he approached life is similar to how many educators I know approach teaching and learning.

As we head toward the second half of the school year, here is one last quote:
Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.
To all educators, thank you for choosing to do work worth doing.

Join the conversation...
If you want to know more about TR, check out this site. What resonates with you?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Are We Really Ready For Change?

It's a snow day in our district, so some items came off today's calendar. I decided to look through my stack of unread articles and journals, and pull out one to catch up. I opened the pages of my October HBR to an article around why organizations fail to sustain change, even with training, development, and learning, especially at the leadership level. Hmmmm, I thought, even though the article is about big corporations, that resonates with education...

In a nutshell, the article argues for a transformational shift, from targeting change and development at an individual level to making the organization itself the primary target for change and development (followed by individual training):

If the system does not change, it will not support and sustain individual behavior change -- indeed, it will set people up to fail.
Why is it difficult for organizations to make systemic changes? The authors of the article suggest six barriers: 1) unclear direction; 2) low commitment by upper level people to the change; 3) lack of honest conversation about problems in the organization; 4) uncoordinated organizational design; 5) inadequate time and attention paid by leaders to people issues; and 6) the fear lower-level people have about telling those above them of an obstacle.

As we in education leadership encourage teachers to change and innovate for the benefit of students, I think we have to be mindful about the importance of organizational change as well. In other words, is our organizational design set up to support change, or, are we setting people up to fail? Should we be looking at our organization first, before we begin encouraging (or in some instances, even expecting) change in others?

There is a myriad of moving pieces in any school or district. The locomotion of just one has unpredictable, nonlinear impacts on others. In order to make smart choices about change, the advice of the authors of the HBR article, adapted by me for education, may prove useful. They suggest that the following questions first be answered by those at the top, and then in each major unit. For us, that would be district-level, and then school-level:

  • Is the leadership team unified around a clear purpose, one that aligns with their mission, vision, and guiding principles?
  • Has the team collected uncensored and raw feedback about barriers to effectiveness, including leader behavior?
  • Has the team redesigned its organization, systems, and practices to address the problems revealed by that diagnosis?
  • Is the team offering consulting and coaching in the form of job-embedded learning so that people can practice the new practices required of them?
  • Does professional learning properly support the change agenda, and will each school's leadership team and culture provide fertile ground for it?
The authors argue that a "no" to any one of these questions should compel an organization to look at the context and strategies for its change.

Until we change at an organizational level, are we really ready for change?

Join the conversation...
For those of you in education, what "change" has stuck, and why? Or, why do you think some great initiative failed, despite its value and worth?

For those of you in other professions, what has been your experience with change?