Originally published in the Reinventing Schools Coalition May newsletter
It all starts with an essential question. What do we want our students to know, do and become? This question is to be asked and answered at all levels of the learning community. If our answers to this question do not fit the reality, then we must reflect on our systems for educating all of our children.
As a leader of a school that has engaged in these deep reflective questions, I am reminded of a typical exchange I would have with visiting members from other school districts. Over the few years, a number of schools and districts would come to visit and see our standards based educational model. Often times I would ask a very simple question: “Why are you here and what is the outcome that you would like to have as a result of your visit?” This was a question that we asked prior to any exchange of information or classroom visits. The most popular answer was: “We need to produce a standards based report card.” Aside from a state mandate, this is not a compelling and deep reason to change a system of instruction to meet the needs of all students. There was a disconnection in these teachers’ minds relating to the identification of the right solution or even the problem. However, by lunchtime these same teachers and leaders would realize the depth of change they were seeing. I do believe they returned to their districts with a better sense of what the change needed to encompass.
So are you and your district on the right track? We thought we were, until we started to look at ourselves and our system. Why were we working so hard, yet our students were not making the gains that we believed they should be making?
This statement brought to light a system that needed to be changed, not any one program or teacher, but the entire system. You probably work in a district that was similar to ours. We had RTI (Response To Intervention), 504, IEPs, PBIS, AIMSweb, NWEA, PLCs and UBD. How and to what could we align these silos?
Well to start off, we needed to make the following promises for every child:
- Understand how a student learns best and have a strong voice in their learning.
- Have students work at their instructional level to engage and accelerate their learning.
- Offer clarity and transparency so that students can navigate and monitor their learning.
- Finally, build a system where students are driven by their passion and realize their potential.
Sounds great, but many times the journey away from the reality of our current situation to the vision of the promise is too difficult to even take a first step. Transformational change is difficult and deep; it requires an understanding of individuals, systems and the culture of an organization. I often reflect on Phillip Schlechty’s quote, “Structural change that is not supported by cultural change will eventually be overwhelmed by the culture, for it is in the culture that any organization finds meaning and stability.” (Schlechty, Shaking Up the Schoolhouse: How to Support and Sustain Educational Innovation (2001), p. 52) (more…)