Getting Better at Getting Better
As I paid visits to schools at the beginning of this year, a teacher sent a question through the principal, “ask her when we are going to be good enough”. I knew the question came from a place of frustration: more new standards, another change in assessments, new technology, and other national, state, and district demands. Yet, the question itself took me by surprise. I had thought the principle of continuous improvement was ingrained in who we are; that all staff understood this was one of our district’s core beliefs. As I reflected on this disconnect, my mind shifted to other gaps in our practices. We have been proud of the fidelity to PLC practices, and as a district, we need to commit to continuous improvement in every area. I think there are a few areas, based on my visits that require further focus:
- We need to find a way to teach new staff about PLC fundamentals. Baptism by fire doesn’t work. Dedicated time and focused learning must be part of our district induction process. Many of our administrators and some of our newer teachers have been through comprehensive professional development, but not everyone and not consistently. Not good enough.
- Celebrating is part of who we are; this needs to be balanced with direct communication about opportunities for improvement paired with reminders that until all of our students are meeting standards, we have not achieved our mission.
- Data is important, and teams should stay focused on answering the question, “How will I know students have learned?” . I see many teams spending time discussing bad tests, ill-designed test questions, and attending to one particular item on one assessment. Ultimately, the team needs to determine if students have mastered priority standards. This decision should not be based on one single data point; so move past the bad question. Admiring data does not move students forward. Successful teams use informal formative data, protocols for data discussions and move quickly on to discussions about changes to instruction and developing interventions.
While I am sure there are many other areas on which we could focus, these seem prevalent for us. As I speak with others in other districts, these seem to be recurring themes. In the coming months, we will be asking administrators in every building to develop a plan for PLC initiation to include explicit professional learning in this area. As we begin our strategic planning process, we will revisit and recommit to our mission and all kids. Building administrators will support teachers in using data protocols and communicate the need to identify instructional improvements and interventions more quickly. Learning communities spend time reflecting and learning before changing practices. Reflecting on our current reality and identifying opportunities for improvement are vital steps in being a successful district, school, and teacher.