I recently had the opportunity to spend 2 days with Jim Knight (@jimknight99) at a conference for RTI coaches who are participating in the RTI network sponsored through the Illinois State Board of Education. Jim studies instructional coaching at the University of Kansas and has many years of experience immersed in coaching teachers. My time at the conference was one of the best professional development experiences I’ve ever had. It was one of those hit you in the face, why haven’t I thought of this before kind of experiences and will have me thinking for many months to come. Although it is easy to feel overwhelmed after a conference jam packed with learning, I am trying to focus on simple goals to put my learning into action.
As I reflected on the partnership approach that Jim advocated, one of the first things I thought of was our School Improvement goals. Were the goals that have been set for our building my goals or our goals? Our School Improvement Team (4 teachers, 2 parents, and myself) met monthly this year for 3 hours and after assessing several “indicators” using the Rising Star system we identified assessment as an area of focus for growth and plan to pursue Standards Based Grading. We also plan to implement Social Emotional Learning as part of a district initiative with universal screening for all students using the Pediatric System Checklist (we are using the shorter form) and Second Step taught as the Tier 1 curriculum.
Although I believe both of these goals to be important and ultimately beneficial for our students, a simple concept Jim presented kept echoing in my head: If a goal isn’t important to teachers, it’s chance of success will always be low. Teachers were involved in the committees that moved us in these two directions, but I questioned the true commitment level of the whole staff. I decided to try a simple activity Jim had presented at the conference using sticky notes. I wrote our two building goals for next school year on the board in our faculty meeting and asked staff members to rate their personal level of commitment to each goal 1-10 on a different colored sticky note. 1=this is the worst idea ever to 10=I’m all in to do whatever it takes to make this happen. Staff turned these in anonymously and I averaged the results and reported them back to staff. I had to be honest and let staff know that implementing Social Emotional Learning wasn’t a choice (it is a district initiative), but implementing Standards Based Grading was an option we could choose to move forward at this time or choose not to. As I reflected on the partnership principles Jim had presented, I knew it would be impossible to tackle a project like radically changing the way we grade and report that information to parents without the full commitment of staff.
The results on this quick feedback we got back were interesting. We averaged 8.5 for commitment to Standards Based Grading and 6.4 for Social Emotional Learning. The first thing that sticks out is the much higher score for the initiative where teachers had a choice. I could argue that changing our assessments and report cards will be a far bigger change taking far more work than implementing Second Step, but teachers still embraced this goal at a much higher level. I am very encouraged knowing our staff is mainly behind the direction we’ve chosen (the lowest commitment score was a 6), and I think staff will be energized to move forward knowing that it was ultimately their choice to tackle this change because they believe it will be good for students.
This may all seem very simple, and in a certain sense it is, but these simple concepts are making me reflect and rethink my role as a leader. In my administrative certification program, we spent so much time talking about articulating and communicating a clear vision, but I don’t think we spent nearly enough time talking about how we can find common ground with all stakeholders (especially teachers) to create a vision we are all passionate about. I am excited to continue to use some of these same principles in relationships with individual teachers to help them set goals that they care about and then support them in getting there. This simple concept gives me a lot of hope to improve relationships between administrators and teachers which can all too easily fall into the “us vs. them” mentality and work in partnership with teachers to create a culture of passionate learning and growth for all.
What are the goals for your school as we reflect on another school year? Are they your goals, someone else’s goals, or truly the goals of the entire school community?
For more from Jim Knight, follow the his blog or check out his instructional coaching website. You can also follow him on Twitter (@jimknight99) or “like” the Instructional Coaching Group on Facebook. Lots of great stuff there.
I am planning to dig in a little deeper to Jim’s work with a couple of his books. I am starting to read “Unmistakable Impact” and then hope to get to “High impact Instruction” sometime this summer. If anyone wants to do some study/discussion of either of these this summer, would love to hear from you! If you are interested in more thoughts from the conference with Jim Knight, I tweeted throughout the conference under the hashtag #impact0514.