Friday, January 30, 2015

Authentic Accountability

New Year's Resolutions are always interesting to me. Typically, I would make a whole host of lofty proclamations on December 31st to a few vaguely interested peers who themselves would be unlikely to repeat a single one my goals more than three minutes later.  For a few days or perhaps even weeks after I might pull the kids' snowsuits off of the treadmill, eat quinoa every meal, and drink sixteen cups of water a day in an attempt to squeeze into clothes that I purchased at a time when I believed the scale in the bathroom was much more accurate than at present. However, after a few weeks, much like the resolutions that I had made to a couple of buddies, my efforts would fade, and I would be right back where I was prior to the start of the year.  Pass the cured meats, please.

Just prior to the Christmas Break, our school made a type of 'resolution'.  After months of our faculty working hard to co-develop our "Attributes of a Graduate" , we developed our driving question to help us move our attributes of collaboration, creativity, and resilience (CCR) at our school from theory to reality.  Our question was "How do we get these attributes into the heads, hearts, and hands of our students?".

After our staff did a ton of initial planning at the December ProD, we also had to confront a couple of realities for anyone in education:  firstly, anyone over the age of 30 is considered to be "old" to our students, and secondly, "old people" like us are basically incapable of understanding what kids would actually find to be "cool" in terms of a presentation such as this.  (That I have even used the term "cool" as opposed to "sick" or some similar term demonstrates my own nerdiness).  So, we created our own "Sa-Hali Project Tuning Protocol" modified from the High Tech High Tuning Protocol, and assembled six of our students to work with our presentation project lead team.  We wanted to go "soft on the people, hard on the content" to determine whether our presentation would in fact get in to the heads, hearts and hands of our students.

I cannot underscore this point more:  the power of project tuning with students is something that truly has to be experienced to be understood.  The comments and suggestions from students were thoughtful and honest, and at the end of the process, each of the students said they were glad to be a part of co-creating something for the rest of the student body.  The people in the room developed a bond that day and without question, the presentation was immediately better than it would have been. It was better not just because the participants had a student's perspective, but because they were people that had really good ideas and cared deeply about their school.  Awesome.

So, back to my bit about resolutions.  Once we began the project tune, we had crossed a threshold--suddenly, our staff had "outed" itself.  Figuratively, it was December 31st, and we were telling these six students that we were going to do something different.  And to put even more pressure on ourselves, we were getting them to help us find a way to make the other 775 students and all of their parents remember the fact that we were going to be doing something different.  That creativity, collaboration, and resilience were going to be our focus from this point going forward.  Uh oh.  Not so fast on the cured meats.

The hard work of our staff and students culminated in our first ever "CCR Attributes Assembly".  I won't lie, I was tremendously nervous.  Usually, assemblies were something to do with spirit, pep rallies, holiday celebrations, or messages from the community.  But this assembly concept was totally different, unique, and untested.  As well, while I was doing the introductory segment of the assembly, the rest of the staff had self-organized into three attribute groups that all had equal (and equally as vital) pieces in the show.  While I had helped with providing a framework for the other parts and our kids had 'tuned' them,  I had not actually seen what the groups were going to do.  Not to mention, each of them had a physical task for kids and staff to do that would reinforce the importance of our attributes. Inasmuch as I had referenced innovator Guy Kawasaki and his "don't worry, be crappy" mantra, and had told our staff we needed to get on with it, this was getting a bit crazy.  It was all on the line in front of 775 kids!  We couldn't walk away from this New Year's resolution--aka. #thisishappening

Together - Attributes.jpg
Our culminating symbol for resilience--WE will do this TOGETHER.
...and it all came together.  The whole school came together because we all did it together, for each other and in front of each other.  And it was awesome.

This process has made me question what authentic accountability really means.  As a staff, a lead team, and a project-tuning team, we were accountable to each other.  We were accountable to a highly visible product and a large and interested group.  But there were no grades.  No percentages.  No rubric.  There was no one giving us a thumbs up or a thumbs down.  There was just our own sense of pride in doing our best work for each other and for an audience because they were there, and they would be watching us.

We will continue to make ourselves accountable to each other, to our students and to our parents.  As much as we co-created this assembly to promote our attributes, to get feedback about these attributes, and to find out where our students and staff wanted to get started with these attributes, we also are creating our plan to develop these attributes that we will project tune with another group of students and parents so we can make our vision of a graduate become a reality for every one of our students.  And by creating our own authentic accountability checkpoints to eachother and to our community, we can avoid CCR becoming little more than a New Year's Resolution and keep ourselves on track to achieve our goal of producing graduates that are creative, collaborative, and resilient.