Sunday, August 24, 2014

Values and Beliefs Impact the School Scorecard

            The other day, a colleague asked my opinion on the contents of a school scorecard. She shared an example from a school which set my thoughts in motion. As I prep to lead an upcoming graduate level course on school program evaluation, I find myself considering the role of values and beliefs in influencing what is considered as valuable data. The powerful external accountability policies at the state and federal level have overwhelmed the discussion on what constitutes school successes. Yet most educators would quickly say that there is more to school quality than test scores.
            The Balanced Scorecard developed by Robert Kaplan and David Norton and described in The Institute Way provides a resource for schools and other organizations to determine how they will measure success. Johnson and Bonaiuto (2008) described how the Needham (MA) School District used the model to identify the qualities of an excellent school, the core competencies graduates should have, and strategies to know if these competencies are achieved. Using a broad group of stakeholders, test scores were mentioned but were not the central element in what constituted success for a school. Instead elements such as safety, student engagement, quality teaching, preparing students for the real world, communication with stakeholders, clean, attractive school campuses, going to college, and diversity were identified as important in an excellent school.
            What process would you use to determine the answers to the three Needham School District guiding statements? How would the responses determine what type of data was collected and schools evaluated? The solutions surface the shared values and beliefs of the school community.

Johnson, G. & Bonaiuto, S., 2008, Accountability with Roots, Educational Leadership, 66, 4, 26-29.

Rohm, H., Wilsey, D., Stout Perry, G., & Montgomery, D., 2013, The Institute Way,  The Institute Press, Cary, NC.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Part 2: And Now the What

As you recall from the previous entry, the district was tasked with the challenge of reducing harassment and bullying among students. A program, Caring School Communities, had been selected for use in the K-6 setting but a nagging feeling that this would not prompt change continued to exist, if only implicitly.

Before implementation planning could begin, the core issue needed to be identified. A look at limited data provided some valuable evidence. One key was the fact that over half the district elementary teachers perceived that harassment and bullying were either a “large problem” or “somewhat a problem” on a survey the previous spring. Additionally, nearly 40% of surveyed K-12 parents conveyed the same sentiment. To complicate matters, the process that principals used to store student behavior data varied across the district, making the collection of past data somewhat problematic.

The general perception was that students need stronger ability to solve social problems and demonstrate interpersonal skills and that teachers need support to guide students in building those skills. Improving school culture became the clear need in order to provide a safe and supportive school learning environment.

With a more explicit identification of the problem, the justification for the decision to adopt the CSC program increased. Principals now had a commonly-identified rationale for implementation that would support them as they led their staffs. We now turned to identifying the desired outcomes and how to evaluate their presence. 

Generating a variety of options, it became clear that loss of class time was an issue due to playground and classroom student social problems. The district has had a standing focus on improving attendance but loss of instructional time for school day issues had not received equal billing. And now it did!  The team’s views coalesced around improving school culture as seen by decreasing the amount of class time lost due to harassment and bullying.

Next up, the team tackled probably the most difficult task, identifying what data to collect and how to store the data for reliable retrieval. As the group struggled with the topic, I wondered if the difficulty formulating what to collect and store were associated with an overreliance on anecdotal data in general. With perseverance, the team crafted a process for collecting and storing the data. This aspect of the workshop required strong teamworking skills to openly challenge and suggest options until the best solution became apparent. The team came away with a system for monitoring incidents as well as the utilization of specific research-based actions. The team recognized that the CSC program must be implemented with fidelity for its impact to be realized.

In the end, the team crafted a plan for a district-wide, K-12 school climate and culture impact. Caring School Communities, while the explicit change, is intended to improve school climate by reducing lost classroom time. Since previous data was limited,  a set of five SMART goals focused on both process and outcome measures. The three of the five outcomes involved a commitment to fidelity to implement weekly class meetings, a cross-age buddy program involving all elementary classes, and conducting at least three school-wide spirit-building activities during the school year for elementary, middle and high schools. The other two goals measure the impact of such efforts by monitoring change in the amount of incidents that involve harassment and bullying, both with and without class time being lost, and a tri-annual school climate survey completed by staff and students. 

As teacher training is to begin and plans shared for implementing the changes, it will be interesting to see if the time spent focusing on problem identification, desired outcomes, and SMART goals will be impactful. Judging from one principal’s gratitude at participating in the process, I believe it will be. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Part 1: Why before How and What

I recently completed serving as a facilitator of a multi-day workshop intending to support the implementation of a district initiative. I had the good fortune to work with a group of highly-motivated, exceptional school administrators whose ability to collaborate is clearly a strength. In this entry and the next, I will document the process we followed to identify a strong set of outcomes extremely likely to create a successful rollout by securing a strong focus, commitment, capacity-building, and monitoring system.

Last spring, the administrative team identified a research-based program, Caring Schools Community© (CSC), to implement at grades K-6 in the fall. A recent review of the district’s history identified at least three past K-6 programs that began in a similar manner that included district expectations for principals and teachers. Sadly, these efforts faded without ever knowing the amount of teachers utilizing the program’s resources or impact of the effort. In these cases, implementation began with a “what we are going to do”. Yet this approach failed to generate enthusiasm and staying power. Adding to the mix, each time the district invested significant financial and time resources, and the plans called for the same with CSC. 

While efforts to improve how students interacted with each other have always garnered support, the need to significantly impact student behavior has never been greater. With harassment and bullying on the forefront of the public’s mind for numerous reasons including increased internet access, school districts are tasked with getting this right. It is no longer acceptable to act from the mindset that “boys will be boys, and girls will be girls.” A research-based program with two ½ day trainings, CSC needed a strong implementation plan in order to influence classroom instruction and student behavior. I realized that something different needed to be done for CSC to have an impact and not end up on the “this too will pass” pile.

Simon Sinek (2010) laid out a simple plan for gaining support by first focusing on 'why' by asking for your beliefs, your purpose. Begin by answering 'why' rather than 'what'.  So the admin team temporarily put aside the ‘what’ (CSC) and looked at the ‘why’. And what they found was remarkable!

Conversations among the team led to the surfacing of the belief that by respecting and valuing differences, the feeling tone at a school, or school culture, would improve. The team shared its belief that school needs to have a safe and supportive setting. So despite already having selected the ‘what’, the team reflected on the ‘why’. In other words, the problem involved improving school culture. We now needed a bridge from the belief to the action.

That passage involved identifying how we would accomplish this. Further discussions grappled with a common challenge, surfacing strategies that could serve as indicators of success.  During this time, the team recalled the long-standing focus, school attendance, to help them to formulate the operational problem- students were missing too much class time due to behaviors that occur outside the classroom. So with dialogue and debate, the team established that it wanted to reduce lost instructional time due to harassment and bullying and in so doing this would indicate improvements in school culture. That was a remarkable awareness and something that would not have become apparent without describing the problem and focusing on beliefs.

Next up: How the team went from ‘identifying the problem’ and ‘how to address it’ to ‘what it will do’.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

What We Think Is Important Influences Actions

            There are two major components in the common core math standards, mathematical practices and content standards. The mathematical practices describe a variety of expertises desired of students in demonstrating and using math knowledge. In my mind, this is the major shift in the new math standards and poses the greatest challenge to implementation. Just because the standards clearly describe the mathematical practices does not mean teachers will interpret, problem-solve, and adjust instruction to incorporate the strategies. Research-based professional learning activities are not the tradition one-time fare. Instead the focus seeks to take new learning and then be supported by coaching, instructional rounds, lesson studies, and other active learning activities.  
            I maintain that the likelihood of assimilation into the classroom begins with surfacing the values of the staff. The level of fidelity to the common core math standards relies on clarifying values (what’s important to us) to help establish the purpose and function of the changes. Surfacing shared values provides the basis for constructive working relationships to participate in the active learning components of professional learning.