And Another Thing

As many of you that follow my posts and content uploads are well aware, I am a strong advocate for the use of effective business tools for the administration of education. However, there is at least one big exception…

Of course you can’t manage what you can’t measure, but the current business frenzy to push quarterly and annual numbers higher with no regard to the”long view” is a mistake, both in business and in education. When asked about long term effects of this concentration on short term gains, one CEO actually said that his company’s three-year outlook was very promising. to a strategic planner a three year planning horizon is myopic at best!

Unfortunately, many of my education colleagues have adopted this limited perspective. The importance of this year’s higher test scores overshadows any other contributions that a teacher or their school makes. Perhaps this is a response in part to the criticism leveled at the profession from various sources. Or worse, perhaps the profession itself believes in these measures above all else.

Only the teachers in the “tested” subjects (normally three in elementary and five in secondary) to be found to be effective. Really??? What about the other two-thirds of teachers? And yet it is often these teachers that can make the biggest difference in a student’s future. Could it be that not having a laser focus on improving test scores actually improves teacher quality?

We live in a data-rich environment. Surely we can find better indicators than last year’s test results upon which to gage student and teacher success. What if we only published sports statistics from the year before? How long would the public or the sports professional put up with that? Educators must find and agree upon a few leading, not lagging, indicators that will help us evaluate student (and teacher) progress and publish those alongside the common assessments from the year before.

Recent research indicates that the medical profession finds it very difficult to unlearn legacy practices, even in the face of double-blind placebo-controlled testing. We do not have the luxury of similar blind research in education, but we do find it just as difficult to walk away from our legacy educational practices. It is much easier to believe that if we just worked a little harder or spent a little more time with those who are struggling, that we could be successful. Of course the really short-sighted analysis would conclude that truly great teachers simply wouldn’t have this problem.

The question is given your current methodologies, how many F’s are you turing into A’s? In Helping People Win at Work Ken Blanchard and Garry Ridge build a business philosophy around “Don’t just correct my paper, help me get an A.” The most successful educators are attuned to this as well, applying entirely new practices and completely redesigning old ones.

Just like the doctors who have learned to leave their legacy practice behind and wash their hands, we must also be willing to change how we teach and not to be satisfied with mere incremental “improvements” to this year’s test scores lifting our vision to a wider and farther horizon.

There are successful school districts out there doing this now. It can and should be done.

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Success is within Reach

Since I wrote Every Child Every Day, I have wondered why Roger Cook and Taylor County Schools have been so successful and other districts have struggled to achieve the same results. I have been rereading Michael Porter’s articles on strategy lately and have begun to formulate a theory based upon his writing and research.

Solid strategy provides a general direction, but is not prescriptive. The activities are the specifics and are tailored to that strategy. They are designed to yield the desired results you have outlined, but not just any results…they should be nearly perfect. Why? Let’s assume you have designed five activities and each of those activities are 90% effective and are co-dependent. In that case, you will only achieve 59% of your goal (.9 x .9 x .9 x .9 x .9) Not what you had in mind? That’s why each tailored activity must be nearly 100% effective.

Roger Cook’s goals are simple – no students will drop out, no students will fail, no students will be held back due to their chronological age. The tailored activities that I have outlined in the book are not random, they have been created and implemented to yield these results. Not some of these results, but 100%. That is why they have had no dropouts for eight consecutive years and continue to have test results in the highest categories.

How do you duplicate this success? Establish a strategy (a simple set of goals) and then create a handful of activities you think that will result in those goals. Find a way to continuously monitor those activities (not an annual event) so that you know when they are done with fidelity and are 100% effective. Adjust them until they consistently accomplish the goal. This is not the end, it is just the beginning. It is your baseline.

Conditions change. Maintaining the results you want can be just as difficult as getting there. So you must create a culture in which the activities you have tailored can be tweaked to improve performance. Again, anything less than 100% is not desirable, particularly if these are nested activities.

My experience and research with Taylor County Schools convinced me that success even at the highest levels is possible. Not because of a special set of circumstances, but as a result of a great deal of planning and hard work.

 

Community Support

As problem solvers, The School Solutions Group often seeks input from a district’s stakeholders, but if you are seeking support and not input.creating academic momentum Be transparent about  your intentions. As I said in Creating Academic Momentum:

There is a difference between a community outreach that seeks input and one that seeks support. Demonstrate to the community that your values are in sync with theirs, and ask for their support. This is not to say that some community members won’t have great ideas that you can use. Just be clear about what you are soliciting so that everyone is clear about expectations.

Creating Academic Momentum

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creating academic momentumFrom the foreword to the book by George Couros:

As Mike says in the book: “Education should provide opportunities, not barriers.” For this to happen, we will need to challenge our thinking and continuously ask: “How can we?” Leaders from any position, find a way forward; that’s why they are leaders. See the possibilities and find that way.

 

A Companion Book

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creating academic momentumMuch discussion has occurred after the release of Every Child, Every Day.

  • How do we replicate those results?
  • How do we create a culture in which this is possible?
  • What sort of leadership is necessary to accomplish this?
  • Isn’t this an awful lot of work?
  • This makes sense. How do I begin?

Creating Academic Momentum: Realizing the promise of performance-based education is my response. It is not a step-by-step guide because every local condition is a little different and must be nuanced. What the writing does provide is guidance regarding the platform upon which to build. In the chapter on collaboration:

It is just as hard to admit a mistake as it is to ask for help. Both make us feel vulnerable and inadequate. some of that has to do with the way the help is ultimately offered. An attitude of superiority in providing any help that is requested is detrimental to collaboration. Help should be offered without judgement. No one has all the answers in this ever-changing educational and technical landscape. Eventually everyone has to ask for help.

Just released by Rowman & Littlefield, it is available in paperback, clothbound, and e-book editions wherever good books are sold.

NSBA

For those of you attending the National School Boards Association annual conference in Boston, Roger Cook will be presenting Learning in a School That Never Closes on Sunday at 1:30 pm in 104A. If you haven’t heard him speak, you are in for a treat!

The book about his district, Every Child, Every Day, is for sale at the NSBA conference bookstore.

Balancing Head Work and Hand Work

In her Synapse post, Alex Ellison (founder of DunceLabs) questions what would happen if more AP students learned a trade. At Taylor County Schools in Campbellsville Kentucky (the subject of the book) every student is required to declare a career by their junior year.

The purpose is the same, although the method is somewhat different.

  • There is a balance to be achieved between academics (head work) and skills (hand work). My wife and I owned and operated an organic farm for ten years. During that time I also worked as a planner for a large public school district. Modulating between the harvest of vegetables and flowers and the calculation of student assignments was not only exhilarating, but also made me better at both.
  • Many students learn through connecting the what to the why. Having a career direction to apply the knowledge, makes knowledge acquisition practical and far more interesting particularly for those with limited attention spans.
  • Creativity is enhanced when there is an opportunity to move between head work and hand work. “Unconscious ideation” is what Koestler called it. Eureka moments don’t often happen at your desk.

The more I read and learn from education literature, the more I am impressed by what is happening under the leadership of Roger Cook and his team in Kentucky. I am profoundly grateful to have been able to describe their work in Every Child, Every Day.

The Six Spoke Wheel of Personalized Learning

Taylor County Schools delivers their program in six different ways depending upon how each student learns best. This is the banner that hangs on the wall of the board room.

My publishers have been great throughout the entire process of taking a manuscript to final product. There has been one glitch and that has to do with the figure on page three that has been difficult to correct. If you have already ordered or received a book with an unusual diagram on page three, just print this slipsheet as an insert into your book. I am sure most of you have figured it out, but just in case this is the corrected diagram for the six spokes. Thanks for understanding.img004

Leadership Finesse

In his post in Synapse Richard Kississieh talks about school leaders leading with a small rudder.

From the coxswain’s seat, a school leader may read the race and the river, set timing and tempo, anticipate turns, and pull on the tiny rudder when needed. School leaders play a vital role in successively shaping many small aspects of a school to consistently support a vision for teaching and learning.

In Every Child, Every Day I describe a superintendent and staff that appear larger than life, but upon reflection I realize that they had the good sense to understand they were steering with a small rudder, not using a blunt instrument. Superintendent Roger Cook said of naysayers in one interview, “If they think we haven’t dealt with everything they have to deal with, they’re out of their minds!”