Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Schooling by Design Chapter 8: How Should Backward Design Apply to School Reform?

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.

My Reflections, Thoughts, and Notes on Chapter Seven.

No comments:

Post a Comment