Tag: leadership

Threads of Implementation — Lessons Learned from Maine

May 21, 2014 by

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 12.13.09 PMThe Maine Department of Education has condensed their six case studies on districts that have embraced proficiency-based education into one article. Threads of Implementation: A Thematic Review of Six Case Studies of Maine School Districts Implementing Proficiency-Based/Learner-Centered Systems looks at nine issues:  vision and framework; policy; leadership; teacher engagement; finance and professional development; technology; communications; pace of implementation; and cultural change. Given that it’s a concise summary, we’ve reposted it below.

Beginning in February 2012, the Maine Department of Education through its Center for Best Practice (Center) began publishing a series of in-depth case studies of school districts who were implementing proficiency-based/learner-centered systems.  These districts were in very different stages of their implementation journeys.  For example, the member districts of the Western Maine Education Collaborative (WMEC) were just beginning implementation while Poland Regional High School (of RSU 16) had been completely proficiency-based since it opened in 1999.  Though each of the districts featured in the Center over the last two years took decidedly different paths on their way to change, there were common themes that emerged throughout the case studies.  Their experiences serve as lessons for other Maine districts just beginning this transition in preparation for all schools in the state issuing diplomas starting in 2018 to students based on demonstrated proficiency.

Vision and Framework
All districts involved in making this change considered it vitally important to engage in a vision-setting process that made explicit certain assumptions.  This visioning process came at different times for each district.  For RSU 18, the visioning process – a Future Search – happened early.  The school board invited 80 stakeholders to participate in a process that would answer the question: “What do great schools look like?  And what should kids learn in great schools?”  RSU 2 went through a similar process, but engaged in it after individual schools had been working on proficiency-based issues for years – in fact, their visioning process came only after a significant pushback from parents.  The individual schools of RSU 20 had clear visions of their own, but the district as a whole did not.  When the individual schools came together to form RSU 20, one of the early acts of the new school board was to approve a proficiency-based vision for the district (though individual schools were free to choose their own way to approach this vision). (more…)

Where is the Love? Leading transformational change, beyond information and technology

March 21, 2014 by
anthony muhammed

Anthony Muhammed

Last December I was at a conference sponsored by the Maine Principals Association and the keynote speaker was Dr. Anthony Muhammad. The topic was building and changing your school culture. As I listened to his presentation, I realized that when building leadership capacity for transformative change, two variables must be acknowledged to better identify and mobilize the ideas and people who are a part of the change process.

First, the technical changes that occur become the tools and structures for learning. Second are the “cultural” pieces, our beliefs, practices, behaviors and norms within and across the organization. Philip Schlechty offers this perspective of the interplay between structure and culture: “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.”

This is where many school officials and reformers fear to tread, but it is the place that holds the biggest keys to unlocking the potential for real change in our schools.

It reminds me of a staff meeting that I had as we began to really push ourselves and our thinking around teaching and learning. I placed a statement on the wall, “All students can meet high standards regardless of their home situation or the teacher they are assigned.” Needless to say, we had a very powerful conversation that afternoon. This is where we pushed our shared vision of all learners into a covenant of collective responsibility. We had adopted a set of values that supported professional development, a sense of responsibility for student learning, and a positive, caring atmosphere. The old model of compliance was being dismantled, as opportunities to enter the realm of collaboration, support and transparency increased. How was this different than before? We had PLCs, staff led committees, and individual goal-setting. (more…)

Leadership Capacity for Second-Order Change

November 11, 2013 by

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This article was first published in the Re-Inventing Schools Coalition October newsletter.

Dr. Robert Marzano identifies 7 out of 21 leadership responsibilities that are integral to bring about second order change in schools. They are as follows: Knowledge of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, Optimizer, Intellectual Stimulation, Change Agent, Monitoring/Evaluating, Flexibility Ideals and Beliefs.

All of these principles must be viewed in the light of an organization that is looking to innovate and transform themselves into systems that meet the needs of all children. This assumes that it is not enough to have a vision, it is necessary to move the organization through a change or innovative process. As the organization moves, it must be sustained. The traits that Marzano identifies are in constant demand of a leader’s attention. This is a very daunting task, the idea of building a school leadership plan for success is pivotal in creating the reality of your school vision. Keeping in mind the above traits… think about these five steps to build the leadership capacity within your school.

Develop a Strong School Leadership Plan. This plan must identify the key components above and their relationship to the shared vision. As the leader identifies the “what” and the “why” of their plan, they must now build the capacity to do the work. Each item must have a clear expectation, measurement and timeline. (more…)

Career Opportunities

September 9, 2013 by

jobsCompetencyWorks has added a new page to our website to list career opportunities.  As our colleagues move from one school to another, one organization to another, we transfer knowledge, create opportunities for learning from each other and strengthen networks. So we want to help out by making it easier for you to find the folks you need.

So check out the Career Opportunities page under the Resources tab. There are four great opportunities listed now. In the future, please send your job listings to chris@metisnet.net so we can add them.

  • Building 21 is seeking a School Leader and Chief Information Officer. Building 21 is a new secondary and postsecondary educational model serving 14-24 year olds that seeks to customize learning for all students by bending the system to meet the learner, as opposed to forcing learners to adapt to the system.  Click here to learn more about their Design Principles. (Posted 7/26/13)
  • Denver Public Schools (DPS)  is seeking a leader to design and launch a new high school, one that operates a rigorous and competency-based approach to learning, breaks from the constraints of the Carnegie unit, personalizes learning for every student, constructs multiple pathways to proficiency, simultaneously recuperates academic gaps and accelerates achievement, and transports learning beyond its walls so that all students develop the knowledge, skills, and mindsets required for 21st century citizenship, scholarship, and work.and create a national model for 21st century school design. The Principal will be a critical agent of change within and across the district: s/he will lead a collaborative design and launch process to bring the school vision to life and develop sharable models of effectivecompetency-based practice; work alongside DPS staff, families, and partners to facilitate buy-in for the school vision; and work with DPS staff and leadership to align district policy and practice with competency-based design principles so that, in time, all DPS schools have the freedom and capacity to practice them. Interested applicants can submit their resumes and cover letters to competency-based-design@dpsk12.org. (Posted 8/13)
  • Springpoint is a new national organization that serves as a school design support hub, leading partner district teams through a design process to launch innovative, new high schools based on integrated design principles and aligned to the rigor of the Common Core. Springpoint seeks a Director of Blended Learning to support school design teams in planning for and developing new, technology-enabled, personalized school models. This candidate will be an expert in education technology and new high school designs for next generation learning. Springpoint also seeks a Program Analyst/Writer with strong research, analytical, writing and project management skills to support sharing and learning across the organization and externally. The Program Analyst/Writer will be responsible for gathering, interpreting, codifying and presenting information, internally and externally.



Lens 2: Action Planning

July 10, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 9.34.37 AMIn earlier posts, I attempted to describe an overall framework of leadership I believe is needed if the work of converting to a student-centered, proficiency-based system of learning is to be successful. I base my thinking on my own experiences and the tales of leaders gone before in both education and business. The framework is built around four lenses through which leaders’ practices must pass. When the lenses are aligned and what we do passes through, our work is focused on our vision. The four lenses of leadership are building a leadership team (discussed in an earlier blog post), action planning, meeting facilitation, and culture. This post looks to further describe the lens of action planning.

A well-built leadership team must identify and share what they will do. What actions will be taken to help our organization in the process of continuous improvement. In Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, Richard Rumelt states that actions are what give strategies traction. Without well defined action steps, you have wheel spinning.

In years past, my school’s leadership team met prior to the opening of school and set goals around how we taught, assessed, and supported our learners. The vision was of a school that asked the teacher to differentiate more and more while the system continued moving students in age-like cohorts whether or not they were ready for the next year’s curriculum. Once we realized this was not improving learning for all students, we created a vision of a school that included the statement, “Students working their way through a well defined continuum of learning using their passions to create a path and choose how they will demonstrate their understanding of the learning.” Borrowing a term from Switch by Dan and Chip Heath, this new vision became our “postcard destination.” Now we needed to identify and script the critical moves to make it a reality. (more…)

Lens 1: Building A Great Leadership Team

June 7, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-06-04 at 3.44.50 PMAs my responsibility changed from a single classroom, to a team, to the full school, I attempted to be the expert in everything from assessment to ventilation. I assumed I was hired because I had the answers. I also felt responsible to get the work done. How could I ask others to do it if I was not willing to do it myself? The work and the stress piled up. The attempt to be the lone expert in each and every room began to deteriorate my energy, and worse, my working relationships with my colleagues.

Then I listened to Creating Magic by Lee Cockerell, the once Executive Vice President of Operations for the Walt Disney World Resort. He suggested that the higher a person goes in an organization, the less of the actual work they do. He said leaders need to empower their direct reports by giving them a voice in how the job gets done. This allows for the innovative procedures and processes to be created.

Who were my direct reports? Schools are not designed as companies with departments with various levels of management. In my school, there are 61 teachers distributed amongst three grade levels: sixth, seventh and eighth, special education, and our Exploratories, with an assistant principal and a principal. Leadership teams in many schools are often constructed because someone fits a role instead of having leadership abilities. “The third grade representative is leaving, no one is interested, so I am going to do it” is not an uncommon statement. Another is, “Can we rotate the position for the year?” Both of these lead to a lack of consistency needed to build a well functioning leadership team.

I now find the leaders, and then have them assume the role. So my conversations might sound like, “Part of your responsibilities on the leadership team is to check in with the sixth grade teachers and see how they are progressing on our goals.” This also keeps the focus on the goals and the ownership of progress on the teams. (more…)

Leadership in a Competency-Based System

May 18, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 1.06.32 PMAt what point did leading a school through a continuous improvement process become so confusing? In my educational leadership classes, I spent a great deal of time focusing on what leadership is and developing a philosophy that would guide me. I thought I had it all figured out. I learned the difference between first order and second order change. I was told to have a vision, communicate it regularly, and work to make it a reality. I also needed to remember that I would be leading people and not machines. They will no longer respond to top-down dictates. If you want to make lasting change to improve education, you must include people in the conversation so they can weigh-in before they buy-in. Okay. Simple. I earned an ‘A’, completed my master’s degree, and felt ready to change the world!

Then I became a building leader, and suddenly someone had put a giant slab of granite in front of me, and I could not see a path forward.  I shared my vision, but people pushed back. No matter how hard I tried to communicate, they became more confused, overwhelmed, and exhausted. Even those initially excited about the reforms became skeptical of their possibilities. I was at a loss.

I began to read more and more from leaders and business consultants on how to become a better leader. The words of Bob Sutton, Dan Heath, Lee Cockerell, and John Wooden, amongst others, allowed me to begin forming theories of how I could lead my colleagues. A big breakthrough came when my district chose to partner with the Reinventing Schools Coalition who entered with the “tools” to drive change. Now I had the why, the how, and the tools to do it. (more…)

How Many Conversations?

April 25, 2013 by

Screen Shot 2013-04-25 at 10.05.45 AMSystems consultant Judith Enright, in the Maine Center for Best Practice video on the Western Maine Education Collaborative, reminds us, “change happens one conversation at a time.”  It’s a truism, of course, but in our work promoting competency-based learning, it has met its moment.  Again and again – in the case study work I’ve done, or in my own experience talking to teachers, parents and education leaders – I find that the real work of cultural transformation occurs when one person talks to another honestly, and a relationship is forged.  One conversation at a time.

Which means a lot of conversations. (more…)

Dancing Out Front

October 30, 2012 by

A lesson in leadership from a dancing guy

I’m in my fourth year in my teacher leader position here at MAMS.  It wasn’t until about a year ago that I had an overwhelming aha! moment about who I was, or wanted to be, as a leader.  My principal showed me the dancing guy leadership video, and all I can say is that it spoke to me.  Since then I have strived to be the kind of leader who dances out front. I picture myself as a suave tap dancer some days, and other days as a lithe ballerina.

Dancing out front means being the vision.  If I’m supposed to be helping colleagues figure out what a learning target is, I need to give them a learning target about targets.  If I want them to start using progress tracking tools, I need to use progress tracking tools when I work with them.  If the English teachers are supposed to be using a workshop model, I need to use a workshop model.


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