The Cheongna Dalton School Leadership team has committed to reading Schooling by Design and we are currently reading Chapter 9. This chapter, in particular, has got me thinking about our upcoming WASC accreditation visit in the spring of 2021. Next year I will take on the role of Director of Professional Learning at CDS and one part of my job will be to facilitate the re-accreditation process. Reading this chapter really made me aware that we have not really included the faculty in learning about our mission statement and making it something visible in our school's curriculum. One conversation we need to start having with teachers is how they are putting the mission into action in their teaching.
Our school's mission statement:
Cheongna Dalton School pioneers to develop global citizens who will engage in a diverse and changing world with creativity and compassion. Building on the foundation of the Dalton Plan, our mission is to empower students with the habits of mind necessary to lead fulfilling and ethically responsible lives.
Have we been helping our teachers think through the implications the mission has on their classroom instruction and planning? We will need to begin that dialogue so that we will all have a shared understanding of what the mission means in action and in terms of what assessments are going to provide evidence of the learning in the mission. I have an idea for where to start.
We will need to have a discussion framed around departments answering the following questions with evidence.
Please provide specific examples to answer each question.
To what extent does your department help develop global citizens who engage in a diverse and changing world?
To what extent does your department department help develop creativity and compassion?
To what extent does your department help develop students with habits of mind to empower fulling and ethically responsible lives?
I believe this is the launching pad to supporting teachers in understanding what types of assessment changes need to be made to put our mission statement into action.
In this post I continue my reflections, thoughts, and notes about School by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. The CDS leadership team is in the process of reading chapter 8 this week.
This chapter begins with a great quotation from Abraham Lincoln, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." Which gets to the heart of what often happens with school reform initiatives -- the frontend loading isn't done thoroughly and the reform ultimately fails or is only superficially applied. Another great quotation follows a little later, "...action-oriented educators tend to identify a goal and quickly propose actions, often with no mechanism for critiquing the validity of the action or adjusting it when necessary." The plan is created and implemented, but the teachers are left out and have no idea why it is being done because they weren't a fundamental part of the planning. Also, we need to have some reason why an initiative is started. All too often in schools, initiatives are started because someone in leadership did the same thing at a previous school. All schools are different and initiatives should occur that organically come from the needs of the school community.
Strategies and Tactics for Reform
The word strategy is often twisted around military style planning, which is a good and fitting concept for schools. As battles, schools are continuously changing and evolving. How do we stay on top of the changes? How do we ensure that our plan continues to stay up to the actual needs of the students, teachers, parents, and community? Though continuous feedback and adjustment. The plan isn't meant to be written and then locked in a desk somewhere until the next accreditation visit. It is a living document that is ever changing. From the broad strategy, we can choose tactics to help us reach the long-term goals. And this quotation is a lovely point, "The strategy can be simply and broadly defined as root out inconsistency and illogical habit, given mission and what it implies." Basically, if the mission doesn't state "it", forget "it" or change "it". I recall an initiative adopted at one school where I worked. The initiative was pushed from the top down and pushed to all subject areas regardless of logic. As one can imagine, the initiative was despised by many. Even those who didn't despise it, couldn't understand exactly why we needed it. No attempt to was really made to include the faculty in the decision making process. The next year, after the person pushing for that reform left, the initiative quietly died. Wiggins and McTighe use the this statement, "A strategy is a specific and public commitment to marshal political, material, and human capital in a coordinated way to achieve an end to which we have obligated ourselves." Notice that we in there... Sort of important.
Strategic Principles for Accomplishing Mission
I appreciate how Wiggins and McTighe point our that a vision is necessary, but that a blueprint is also required to actually make a reform implemented. This section also demonstrates the similarities between backwards designing a unit of instruction and planning a school reform. "Plan backward from mission accomplished." Again this idea of how can we get somewhere if we have no idea where the where is located? "Confront and continually work to close the gap between the vision and the reality." The goal needs to be checked against the brutal reality of the situation. If we are going to measure growth toward a goal, it will be the lessening of the gap between where we want to be and where we are. I think this is where too many people fall down and see the forest as so large and overwhelming. The trick is to see the forest and know that it exists, but to focus on some very important trees. Pick four or five and focus on those first. Once you have toppled those trees, then you can pick four or five more. Always slowly and consistently heading in the direction of continual improvement toward the goal. "Plan to adjust and have systems in place for proactively getting and using feedback to make timely and effective adjustments, early and often." The plan needs to be able to change to fit the current situation and the needs of the community. It doesn't mean the goal gets thrown out, but the route to get to the goal could change radically. We cannot predict the future, so we must be ready to alter the course.
Applying Backward Design to School Reform
Stage 1 -- Identify desired results
The destination for our journey. At CDS, we have a graduate profile that is our goal. With that goal in mind we have the following questions (and many more).
What do we want staff to really own? What skills and knowledge need to be exist for us to reach the goal?
Stage 2 -- Determine acceptable evidence
We need evidence that our graduates fit the graduate profile. We also need evidence that our 6Cs are actually being taught to our students.
How will we know if we have reached the desired results? How will we track our process?
Stage 3 -- Plan learning experiences and instruction
We need to support the faculty in having the skills and knowledge to be able to produce student who live the 6Cs and embody the graduate profile.
What professional development activities and support will the staff need? How will it be supplied?
What Makes Backward Design "Backward"?
The part of this section that really stood out to me were the duel sins. First, professional activities that fail to lead to goal-related results. Second, staff members are informed about new initiatives but never held accountable for implementation. I have seen both of these sins many, many times during my career. To close the gap between vision and reality hard work is necessary on the part of many community members, so the reason to make the changes and close the gap needs to be compelling. And we must continually adjust our map to the end of the journey, because in reality there is no end to the journey.
An interesting side not in this section was the mention of PDSA -- plan, do, study, act -- which has been around since the 1930s and yet we still aren't getting it right. And, in my humble opinion, Wiggins and McTighe did build upon PDSA, but they didn't make anything new. If one was to employ the PDSA method, it would be Schooling by Design.
The Leadership team at Cheongna Dalton School has taken on the task of reading Schooling by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. I have decided to track my reading of the book with my blog, so there will be several upcoming posts about this book and my reflections on the chapters we are reading together. Chapter 7 openings with a quotation from Jim Collins author of Good to Great and the Social Sectors, "Leadership is not about being nice or soft or purely "inclusive" or "consensus-building." The whole point is to make sure the right decisions happen-- no matter how difficult or painful -- for the long-term greatness of the institution and the achievement of its mission." It seems like making decisions based on the school's mission should go without saying, but over my years in education I have seen decisions made by leadership that didn't reflect the mission of the school and/or tried to avoid difficult or painful situations. Isn't the old saying "you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs?" It is true -- by focusing on the mission and making decisions on it, you will rub some people the wrong way; but, I would argue, that is the job of leadership in a nutshell.
The next part that really stuck out at me was the essential question of leadership, "What does "mission accomplished" require of me as a leader and us as a school?" We really do have to define what the mission of the school is and how we will reach it, but also the me part is fundamental and I feel this is the spot where most of us fall down. The thinking deeply of what the mission requires of me as a leader is very important. Without that clearly in your head, the mission of the school can be difficult to accomplish, because those difficult and painful decisions will be easily avoided.
The rest of Chapter 7 is broken into the six job functions of the academic leader.
Job Function 1: Responsibilities Related to Mission and Learning Principles
The function deals with guiding the community in craft a clear mission, but also on the process of continually exploring the meaning and implications of the mission statement. It is very easy to craft a mission statement, but it is very difficult to design a process where the community continues to redefine the mission. I've seen several institutions where the mission statement was written in past years, but the members of the community have changed as well as the environment and world, but the mission statement is still the same as it was years before. For there to be real ownership of a mission statement, the institution (and its members) need to be continually wrestling with the mission. Forever exploring what it means to all stakeholders. This struggle allows for a communal ownership.
Job Function 2: Responsibilities Related to Curriculum
Key to this function are unpacking standards and facilitating curriculum reviews and troubleshooting. In order to achieve this responsibility, leaders must develop processes and protocols for critical feedback on unit and lesson design. Departments and grade levels teams need to unpack standards together so there is a team understanding of what the standards and transfer skills mean. Curriculum reviews must be candidate and professional so proper adjustments can be made to facilitate learning. This work requires time built into the schedule. As I often state to colleagues, if you aren't building time in the schedule for it, the subtle message is that it really doesn't matter.
Job Function 3: Responsibilities Related to Results (Gap Analysis)
This is all about making feedback central to reform. Feedback must be gathered and the brutal facts dealt with as a method to grow and learn. Feedback should be gather and analyzed like any other data (but outliers should be considered just that -- outliers).
Job Function 4: Responsibilities Related to Personnel
"... providing the necessary training, supervision, and evaluation guided by mission-related and results-focused criteria." Sums up this responsibility in my mind with regard to the people you currently have on the bus, but more importantly is the concept of "...getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats." Which, as any school leader will tell you, is much easier said than done. Hiring teachers that match the mission is incredibly important, but all too often I see leaders simply hiring people without regard to the mission of the school. The first part I mentioned from this section, providing professional development is near and dear to me. I have always continued to learn and this section talks about the importance of that as a school. "The why behind the activity is twofold: first, our mission/vision calls for us to be "continuous learners" and embrace "shared values." Secondly,... it is essential that we find our "voice" with regard to how we view our job." The end of this section points out the work of Kim Marshall in effective evaluation of teachers through his book Rethinking Teacher Supervision and Evaluation. I book our leadership team already read. :-)
Job Function 5: Responsibilities Related to Structure, Policies, and Resources
"... when the appropriate structures are in place, the school's success or direction no longer depends upon personalities." Here is where I will probably rub some people the wrong way... You have been warned! The cult of personality that occurs in schools is tiring for teachers. A new administrator shows up, he/she starts five or six new initiatives over the course of three or four years and then he/she leaves to a new school. The mark of a great administrator is not the number of initiatives you start, it is the number that remain once you leave, because those became part of the culture. With that in mind, here are some new rules to follow: First rule, if you are starting a new initiative, it needs to be related to the mission of the school. Second rule, if you are starting a new initiative, you need to remove an old one. Teachers cannot do EVERYTHING, so stop trying to make them to pad your CV. This isn't about you; it is about students, teachers, parents, and the school. Please check your ego at the door. The most valuable school resource is time; please use it wisely.
Job Function 6: Responsibilities Related to Culture
Two quotations from this section really make the point. First: "The academic leader's job is to ensure that the culture of the school is mission focused." Second: "The leader's job is not to pose solutions but to raise questions and demand thoughtful analysis of problems, leading to solutions "owned" by all parties affected.