School Transformation

It’s been said that the only human that likes change is a baby. Change is the hardest thing to work through even when dealing with professionals like educators. Part of it is due to the fact that our state legislature has a bad habit of changing the rules every other year. Part of it is that campuses and districts have leadership changes often and with those changes come different theories. Both of these mean that the hard work teachers put into their curriculum and classroom work is either scrapped or highly modified. Given that teachers have little time for planning as it is, that means less family time after hours while trying to prep for the school day.

Now, you want to “transform” their classroom? Really? Another change for another year or two? This is where your leadership (from the school board to superintendent to assistant principals) must have the same vision. This allows you to point out that no matter what cog of the wheel might change, the overall direction will not change anytime soon.

My good friend, and a wonderful educational mind, is Diana Laufenberg. She recently blogged about her work in transforming schools as a consultant after her classroom and leadership work at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. She keys in on four areas that she finds leaders could focus attention and make the process easier and more profitable for all involved.

  • Allow for breathing room – the people who are walking the path need support, but be careful not to micromanage. Once a plan is in place, check in on progress but leave some room for the project to breathe, get up to running speed, a watched pot never boils… evoke whatever analogy you want. This matters.
  • Play the long game – when the change process begins there is often a push to change it all right now, flip the thing over, disrupt. I would caution that to do so often alienates your core team, leaves the changes at a superficial level, and does not lay the ground work for the core changes that you want to see cement themselves into your school ecosystem. Its easy to drop new machines in a building and much more complex to bring that technology in to serve the pedagogy powerfully. Being thoughtful in scaffolding the process will set up the pathways of success for the team in ways that cannot be manufactured in any other way.
  • Pay attention to critical indicators – I often joke that if none of the students are doing the homework, it is not a problem with the students – it is a problem with the homework. Similarly, if a critical mass of the teachers in a transformation school are not on board, its time to evaluate that push back. It is important to listen to what the criticisms are and attend to the information. Ignoring it will only lead to massive staff turnover, year after year, which is a death knell to meaningful change. Change requires a school to reevaluate all its systems and structures. This is uncomfortable. Help people move through that space rather than ignore the issues.
  • Celebrate successes – Celebrate often, celebrate loudly, celebrate in the classrooms/school/community. Invite the community in, send the teachers and students out to meet with the community. It is important for the greater community to see the work of the students and start to see the transformation not just as a school initiative, but as a community effort.

Which of these do you feel you do well already as it pertains to the transformation you’d like to see on your campuses? Which of these do you think should be a priority for YOUR staff right now?

Crossposted in PLP Discussion Group.

Voice and choice has to be an option

It is probably the worst thing to ask a veteran teacher to do: let loose the reigns. Now, I didn’t say let go of the reigns. I’m just saying let loose a little. Voice and choice are so important for our kids to buy-in to what the teacher is selling. There are a number of ways to really accept this process including changing the title of teacher to lead learner.

In White Oak ISD, we entrust our PBL training to Dayna Laur. Dayna is a longtime, classroom practitioner and has an uncanny way of working key ideas into what the teacher can currently associate with. Take her connection of empowering authentic learning and worksheets:

If you haven’t already, perhaps you should take the time to watch the very powerful 2010 TedTalk by Adora Svitak. I could certainly write volumes on why the practice of worksheet education and low level Bloom’s is doing nothing but perpetuating a nation of students who are being taught not to think for themselves. However, Adora does an amazing job articulating this point through the words of a child. “What Adults Can Learn From Kids” reviews the lack of trust from which teachers operate in their classrooms. The lack of trust that causes teachers to place restrictions on their students, rather than letting them flourish. Near the end of her talk, Adora challenges teachers and adults, “not to turn kids into adults like you, but to turn kids into adults better than you.” In order to do this, we must move beyond the era of worksheets.

Worksheets are a prescribed curriculum no matter how you cut it. There’s no creativity in handing out worksheets, and there is little educational benefit. Sure, some short-term practice will occur, but that’s not our goal. Sure, worksheets are aligned with test prep, but that’s not our goal. Sure, worksheets are easy because they tear right out of the workbook the ISD pays tens of thousands of dollars for each year, but that’s not our goal.

Our goal is long-term learning by lifelong learners. We can be as cynical as we want about it never happening because we will never have 100% of our students who want to be in a classroom. So, is that the reason we shouldn’t improve the learning process for the vast majority of our students who really would take an interest in their own learning if it actually became their own learning. Ownership. That’s something voice and choice will help gain.

Crossposted in PLP Discussion Group.