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.
From 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.
Much 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.
I am often asked how you build an innovative organization like Taylor County Schools. In her January 4, 2016 blog post in Strategy+Business Lisa Bodell gives us the benefit of her experience in helping organizations “forward think.”
Here are the five steps she describes:
- Go micro. Understand the developing microtrends and understand their impact on the various departments in the organization.
- Annual scenario review. Look at political, societal, environmental, technological, and legal changes that will occur within whatever time horizon you select and develop scenarios that respond to those changes.
- Make the future tangible.
- Retain a technology scout. Early adopters are aware of advances in technology long before anyone else. The tech scout is an early adopter who can make unusual connections between new technology and your organization.
- Tap into academia. In an educational organization these are the researchers. Programs and program delivery should be informed by research and data. The key to disruptive innovation is making the connections between what is known and what is possible.
Disruptive innovation in education is never easy, but creating a forward thinking culture is a solid first step in the right direction.