Kyle Machen

Kyle Machen, EdD, the principal of Benton Middle School in Louisiana, has been an educator for close to 20 years. Under his leadership, Benton Middle School was recognized as Louisiana’s first Model PLC.

Buckle Up and Enjoy the Ride

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of taking an incredible West Coast road trip with my wife.  We rented a convertible and drove up and down the California coast with the wind whipping through our hair.  The breathtaking scenery was unforgettable, the temperature was an ideal 72 degrees, the music never stopped, and all was right with the world. I think about our trip often...just my wife and me...and of course, google maps.  There was never a point in our trip that we didn’t have google maps directing us towards our final destination.  If we made a wrong turn, google maps was quick to exclaim “Rerouting” in her chipper British accent (If your google maps lady doesn’t have a sophisticated accent, are you even living your best life, govnuh’?).  She was there each leg of the journey, leading and guiding us.

If only the school transformation journey was as easy as clicking on an app and entering your final destination! Unfortunately, as many of you may already know, the school transformation journey is a little more complicated than that.  There will be twists and turns, traffic jams, and moments you’ll need to reroute. Your chipper British friend will not be there to lead the way or to warn you of rough roads ahead.  You will need something else to guide you, something else to keep you on the path to your destination.  You will need the three big ideas of a professional learning community as outlined in Dufour, Dufour, Eaker, Many, and Mattos’ Learning by Doing- A Focus on Learning, A Collaborative Culture & Collective Responsibility, and A Results Orientation.

In your school transformation journey, you will first and foremost need to make a commitment to a Focus on Learning.  This is not about opportunity or even something we hope to achieve. This is a guarantee that all students will actually acquire the essential knowledge, skills, and dispositions of each unit, course, and grade level.  When I read Learning by Doing the first time, it was an awakening for me in my professional career. The message is so simple, yet one that we so easily forget… “the fundamental purpose of the school is to ensure that all students learn at high levels.” There needs to be no confusion here, A Focus on Learning is not an optional route in your journey.  This is THE route.  Everything starts HERE.  It’s that simple, folks.

Once we have made the commitment to let a focus on learning guide our transformation, we must vow to promote Collaborative Culture and Collective Responsibility. On this journey, we must guarantee that systems, structures, and strategies are fundamentally designed and are working together to build shared knowledge on the best ways to achieve goals and meet the needs of our children. Simply put, we are all in this together (cue High School Musical soundtrack... #ihavethreedaughters).  Learning by Doing defines A Collaborative Culture and Collective Responsibility as “a culture in which teams of educators work interdependently to achieve common goals for which members are mutually accountable.”  Much like our first big idea, this idea of collaboration and shared responsibility is not a recommendation or even considered best practice.  No, my friends, on the journey to school transformation, it’s an expectation...a requirement for employment.     

After you have ensured that your transformation journey begins with a focus on learning and continues with a collaborative culture and collective responsibility, you must stop along the way to gather evidence of student learning.  Learning by Doing refers to evidence of student learning as A Results Orientation.  Evidence of student learning is vital in improving professional practices while responding to individual students who need intervention or enrichment.  Once you’ve gathered evidence of current understanding, you must pause to develop strategies to build on strengths and address weaknesses, implement those strategies, analyze the impact, and then repeat. Remember that this part of your journey is results driven, not intention driven (we know where the road paved with good intentions lead us…). Focusing on results will allow for a pursuit of measurable improvement addressing students who need additional time and support for learning.  It’s a necessary piece of the transformation, and you cannot make the journey without it. 

I realize that implementing these three big ideas into your journey may be easier said than done.  It sounds so simple- focus on learning, work together, gather evidence...check, check, and check.  Right?  But we know the realities of education...on this journey there will be winding roads, falling rocks, road work ahead, and dead ends no, 2020, anyone?!?!  I encourage you to think about Dufour, Dufour, Eaker, Many, and Mattos’ Learning by Doing as an atlas on your journey- or maybe it could serve as our school transformation google maps?  It is a step by step guide that will lead you through analyzing your present situation (via continuums), collectively planning, implementation of action steps to address those realities, as well as collecting data to determine how well those steps are working.  I have found that the new principal, or perhaps even the veteran principal starting a new journey, can literally take their leadership team through this book chapter by chapter providing step by step guidance he or she needs to successfully navigate this incredibly complex but rewarding and impactful journey.

I can guarantee there will be unforeseen circumstances in your journey; however, when we focus on learning, make a commitment to collaboration, and ensure results orientation, we are surely to stay on course for the real reason we travel these bumpy roads- our boys and girls. So, buckle up my friends and enjoy the ride.  



Kim Howell

Great article! :)

Posted on