Growth begins at the end of your comfort zone.
Last week we visited Rocky Mountain National Park and drove Trail Ridge Road in awe. Around every turn there were breathtaking views. We drove to one of the highest points on the road near the Alpine Visitor Center. Hikers then have the option to climb to the elevation of 12,005 feet. Knowing that it was very cold with high winds, we decided to go for it. As we climbed our heart rate increased and our breaths became labored. What we experienced while on top of the mountain, holding tight to one another, was indescribable. We laughed, took photos, and relished the moment. We were going to skip this climb because it was cold and windy. That would have been a mistake.
After the Rockies I went to support a district with their annual Data Retreats. I opened each session with the photo above. I shared that I was hoping to make their heart rate increase and at times take their breath away. Many teachers and leaders looked at me confused. What kind of professional learning experience was this going to be? I shared that my goal was to make them uncomfortable. I firmly believe that the only way we will improve schools is if we are honest and transparent with our data and examine our adult actions. We utilized a 5-step Decision Making for Results Process to accomplish our tasks. Below is a brief synopsis of our work.
Referencing Jim Collins' book Good to Great we started with setting norms for the day. Collins states, "Creating a climate where the truth is heard involves four best practices." We agreed to use these practices as our norms:
Always begin with questions. Often I find districts/schools are data rich and information poor. We have lots of charts and graphs; however, it is the questions we ask about the data that turn numbers into information that is actionable. Stephen White, author of Beyond the Numbers states, "It's not so much a lack of data, but an absence of analysis, and an even greater absence of actions driven by data."
We can't simply take numbers at their face value. Only by digging deeper and asking questions will we learn more about what can drive our teaching and learning practices. A few of the questions we asked were:
Step 1: Data Dig
In collaboration with the district I organized multiple data sets as evidence of performance. Using Victoria Bernhardt's Multiple Measures, we reviewed student learning data, demographics, school processes, and perception data. Leadership Teams were also encouraged to locate and add data sources from their school to each category. All of our work was organized in Google Drive with folders for each school for synchronous collaboration. Teams were provided a template to guide the steps in the process.
Step 2: Analyze to Prioritize
Next, we analyzed results from the state assessments, in this case SBAC, and drilled down into claims and targets to identify areas of strength and opportunities for improvement by content area and student group. I asked the teams to organize their data by effects (results) and possible causes/inferences in both categories. Effect data was specific and drilled down to the standard level for ELA and Math. This analysis led to a prioritization of our most urgent needs.
Step 2: SMART Goals
Teams turned their priorities into SMART goals. We limited our goals to no more than three. One for literacy, one for math, and one choice goal based on need. This district chose attendance for K-8 schools and graduation rate for high schools. Emphasis was placed on creating Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timely
goals that PLCs can use to drive their instruction and progress monitoring.
Step 4: Action Steps
Teams were then encouraged to identify 4-5 research-based strategies and best practices to address each goal area. I encouraged teams to list only items that are directly related to their analysis. Actions that reflect what we are already doing or what is an expectation for all classrooms will not move us closer to goal attainment. One of Albert Einstein's best known quotes is, "Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results." We must identify the actions that will have the greatest impact. Using resources such as, What Works Clearing House, Johns Hopkins School of Education, and Visible Learning, among others can help leaders and teachers determine evidence-based actions to take.
Step 5: Evidence and Artifacts
For each goal area, teams identified a minimum of two pieces of evidence and two artifacts to collect to gauge progress toward goal attainment or to inform strategy implementation. Evidence collected can be benchmarks or interim assessments, common formative assessments, diagnostic or progress monitoring tools. Artifacts may be PLC/Data Team minutes, lesson plans, running records, or PD participant surveys. Collecting both quantitative and qualitative data assists with monitoring and evaluating implementation of the school improvement plan.
Monitor and Evaluate
In order to support leaders and teams in monitoring and evaluating progress toward goal attainment, I developed a 45-day Monitoring Plan. Every nine weeks leadership teams must meet to gather evidence of strategy implementation or student progress. Next steps need to be identified to either continue with identified strategies that are working or make midcourse corrections for those that are not having an impact. In between 45-day meetings each PLC should be meeting to conduct Instructional Data Team Cycles in support of the goals.
The Decision Making for Results process is one that, if done well, can lead to big ahas and discoveries as well as clarity about what we need to do collectively to achieve results. While no one typically jumps for joy when it is time to develop school improvement plans, we all recognize that as learning organizations we must continually seek ways to improve and accelerate student learning. I am proud of the school leaders and teachers I worked with this week and, upon reflection, felt that others may benefit from reminders of solid continuous improvement processes that can impact teaching, learning, and leadership.
Find those nuggets that make you uncomfortable and commit to tackling them as a team! Happy digging!
If you are interested in learning more about the Decision Making for Results Process or Tools, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.