When I reflect on these last seven years at my school, I realize that we have begun and implemented a number of different initiatives. Whether it has been around assessment practices, collaborative mechanisms, intervention strategies, staff and student engagement, or technology and 21st century skills, we have taken numerous steps in attempts move us forward on the continuum of promising practice on a variety of fronts. I’m sure this is no different than any other administrator or team leader in any school: when coming to a new learning situation, it is natural to examine the strengths to build upon and the areas for growth that we want to support in order to improve student and adult achievement and capacity. But there are several questions that I need to ask myself, the first one being:
“Have these initiatives made a difference?”
Since we have created time within our timetable for teachers to work with other teachers on curriculum, instruction, and assessment in their curricular areas, have teachers seen a change in their practice and a change in the achievement of their students? Well, we have anecdotal survey data from staff members that supports this notion.
In our continued acknowledgement (both philosophically and with our structures) that students learn at different rates through provision of both invitational and directed times for students to get additional support in their learning, have we seen increased success in our core courses? And to that end, as a result of us examining our own assessment practices, getting rid of late marks, and giving students multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning, have we seen an increase in student success? Our decreasing failure rates would indicate positive trending in this area:
With our digital school improvement plan, literacy strategy-based staff meetings, increased access to technology and wifi, and modelling the use of web tools for collaborative learning for our faculty, have we created an increased sense of ownership and engagement to our own professional learning that is evident in our classroom practices and demonstrated in the form of 21st century skills by our students? I am looking forward to further examination of the Instructional Rounds principles to help us determine growth through a collaboratively developed, inquiry-based problem of practice in these areas.
But there is another piece to all of this, and perhaps a more important question to consider:
Have these initiatives and the work around them become a part of our culture?
Or, in the words of Dr. Richard Elmore from the Harvard Graduate School of Education:
“Is your strategy in the heads, hearts, and hands of all of the people in your organization?”
I think our collaborative structures are solid, and they will continue to get better and more focused. I think our assessment practices are becoming more crystalline in terms of their clarity to our students, our staff and our community. I feel like we are engaging our staff and our students more than ever, and our reflection on pedagogy is steadily improving to better meet the needs of each of our learners. But....
But as much as I don't want to cop out, I really believe that only time will tell. The structures that last and the philosophies that endure are the ones that will comprise the culture that has evolved over the past seven years. That is the legacy piece that I feel everyone needs to consider when they begin at a new school--"After I leave, what is it that I want to leave behind?" or maybe a different question:
"What can I do to make sure I am not just writing on the beach with a stick?"
In your tenure as a school or team leader, how do you determine whether initiatives or ideas are just going to get "washed away with the tide"? What are those high-yield strategies that you are doing in your building that, through your experiences, you know have the potential to be a part of any school culture? And what have you done to embed them in your culture?