Thank you for making school improvement a priority!
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If you’re like most people, you’ve been down the fitness craze path.
It takes time and effort to find what fits your schedule, lifestyle, and preferences.
But if you stick with it, you can find the right program for you.
As silly as this may sound, school leaders often go through the same trial-and-error when trying to find the right strategies to grow and improve their schools. We hear about a cool new program, see that there’s a PD grant, and we’re off to the races.
Of course, the truth is that what works for one school may not be right for another. When school leaders are pressured to adopt the latest and greatest “best practice” model that are not right for them, the results aren’t just disappointing. They can erode our ability to take advantage of the best opportunities we have to make real, transformative change.
Each school is its own ecosystem, with its own students, community, staff, culture and history. As a teacher, administrator and consultant, I’ve worked in dozens of schools, and I’ve seen the exact same program work beautifully in one school and fail in another.
The simple truth is this: there are no universal “best practices,” but there are context-specific, high-impact practices.
Exploring a variety of exercise options can be great for a person, but school transformation requires a different approach. When it comes to schools, we don’t have the luxury of wasting any time, money, or precious staff enthusiasm on programs that aren’t going to work for us.
What if we could shortcut the trial-and-error process, skipping past the exciting, not-quite-right solutions to find the programs and strategies with the greatest potential to meet our needs?
When searching for opportunities to improve, how do you figure out what will work for you? These 4 questions will help you find the highest value solutions for you. [Read more…]
“The Growth Mindset” has revolutionized how we think about student learning. But have we considered what it means for our own work, as educators and administrators?
Continuous improvement is essential to educational transformation. Applying the growth mindset framework to our own work may be the key to achieving real and meaningful improvement. [Read more…]
Get a free 2016-2017 District Polarys Report. These insights, which typically cost over $10,000, include:
In 2008, the ReContext team was called in to help New Leadership Charter School (NLCS), a charter school in Springfield, MA serving 550 students in grades 6-12. The school served a high-poverty and high-needs student body. The average student entered the school approximately 3 grade levels below their age in both mathematical and literacy skills.
Based on their Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) scores, the school was labeled chronically underperforming. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) threatened shutdown if scores didn’t improve.
With so many knowledge gaps, highly targeted intervention was necessary to see significant improvement. We instituted a standards-based assessment system that helped to create a skills profile for each student.
This allowed us to:
The school experienced two-year gains in their MCAS scores of 20% in literacy and 44% in mathematics (32% overall). To date, the score jump remains the highest in the history of the state.
The school went from being the 2nd lowest performing in the Commonwealth to being the 2nd highest performing school in the city of Springfield. In the last year of the program, the bottom 10% experienced growth of 173% – almost 3 grade levels in one year, and outscored the aggregate population.
DESE removed the threat of shutdown.
Are we on the right track?
Like most fundamental questions, it’s elegantly simple and devilishly hard to answer. You want to know your plans will lead to increased success in serving your students, but do you know what you mean by “success”?
When I ask school leaders “what is success to you?” I typically hear two kinds of responses:
College-ready graduates. Low drop-out rates. Positive school climate. Well-rounded students. High levels of community engagement.
These are all laudable, worthy goals. However, an essential truism of leading any team is that everyone needs to know and agree on both the destination and path to reach it. Vision matters.
Deciding that success is “Mushville Middle School Graduates Independent Learners” doesn’t mean that having a welcoming school isn’t important. It simply means that you know the primary objective of your educational institution and all other choices will flow from that objective.
Honing down on a crisp, clear definition of success is very hard work. There are multiple questions you will need to explore. But if you have too many definitions of success, your team will not be aligned, your energy will dissipate, and you will have little control over your outcomes.
Two little fish are swimming along when another fish swims by. The third fish nods and asks, “hey guys, how’s the water?” The two little fish swim on for a bit, then one turns to the other and asks “what the heck is water?”
– David Foster Wallace, “This is Water”
Every day, we all swim through life, casually oblivious to the assumptions that make our reality possible. And contrary to popular adages, relying on assumptions is neither lazy nor illogical. To the contrary, many of these simple, daily assumptions are logical, broadly accurate, and highly useful.
Without assumptions, you would constantly be surprised and unprepared – not the highest state of function. Thankfully, you know that tomorrow you’ll go to the same building to do the same job. There will be mediocre free coffee in the break room. You’ll buy your go-to staples at your usual shops. After dinner you’ll kick back, watch Netflix and go to sleep earlier than you used to and later than you should.
Routine, while maligned, has much to recommend it. And assumptions are the foundation of routine.
These generic, insignificant assumptions make your life less complicated and more manageable. When you do run into rough currents, you tweak your systems and learn new strategies to improve your life in marginal ways.
You swim, swim, swim.
Until you can’t.
Until the aggregate errors embedded in your assumptions coalesce to create big problems you can no longer ignore.
If you’re responsible for a low-performing school or district, the call to “just keep swimming” isn’t enough. Whether it’s from administrators, parents, or the state, you are under the gun to meet expectations. Marginal improvements won’t cut it, and the current is carrying you away. So now what?
It’s in crisis situations when we can no longer afford to take our assumptions for granted. But this is also where we find the greatest freedom to challenge the norms that are holding us back. In this article, we’re going to name three assumptions that:
Today’s school leaders are faced with a tricky challenge: innovate without burnout.
As a school leader, you’re facing two competing priorities.
With around 80% of our budget dedicated to staff, that typically means a laser-focus on getting the most out of our people.
In the abstract, ongoing improvement of our staffing strategies and systems makes sense. But in practice, our staff often ends up feel like they’re forever being asked to do one more thing.
Initiative fatigue is real, it’s valid, and it’s a serious concern for any school leader.
So how do we simultaneously:
Let’s take a look at the causes of initiative fatigue and the four essential components of sustainable continuous improvement. [Read more…]
If you’ve been in education leadership for more than 15 minutes, you’ve found yourself in the middle of a go-nowhere argument: educators, district leaders, and state accountability folks all insisting that They Know how well your students are really doing.
So what do you do with these 3 Blind Monks of education? Make them work for you.
Below we’re going to briefly explain the problem (in fun parable form!), meet the characters, and then help you use their insights to serve your students.
Ready to solve one of education’s most aggravating problems?