This year, I’ve been more intentional in working with our schools with their continuous improvement plans or CIPs as they are commonly referred. At one time in our division’s history, the school had little flexibility in the design of their plans. There was a strict format and all plans adhered to it. I believe that this is a necessary requirement when the learning agenda is not being well served and inconsistency of practice abounds. Currently the continuous improvement plans of our schools connect under the umbrella of the division goals, but are highly based on the individual context of the school. Each school needs to set their own priorities based on their own evidence of strengths and areas of improvement.
The past week constituted my second formal visit to all schools to review their CIPs. I choose to go out to all of the schools rather than have the administrators come to central office. It is no secret that any opportunity that I can to get into our schools is a bonus. Although not large, as a regional division serving five separate communities, it requires some driving and a very structured schedule.
The meetings are characterized by generally three conversations:
- What have you done in the last 30 days (or since my last visit) that contributed to reaching your goals and what is the evidence?
- What are you going to do in the next 30 days (or until my next visit) that will contribute to reaching your goals and what will be your evidence?
The first past of the conversation is always reflective and in the vast majority of cases is celebratory. Schools always tend to be activity oriented and therefore listing what has been done is quite easy and showcases how much occurs in our schools today. Even the future activities are easily articulated by our administrators because that is just what we do in schools. However, it is the evidence piece of both conversations that is truly critical.
The evidence that we are gathering must ensure that our practices are both effective (for all students not just some) AND efficient! Being reflective about what we do to meet our goals, by gathering evidence cannot be ignored in the CIP process. While we typically go to data and test scores, evidence (in my definition) is far more diverse. We need to review both quantitative and qualitative information to lead our practice; not one or the other but both!
This evidence piece must be non-negotiable and it is one that can result in having tough conversations. It is through these tough conversations that we will gain further insights into effective instructional practice and improved student learning. Delving into the evidence on practices being effective and efficient will allow us to begin to address both teacher workload and teacher efficacy. Gathering evidence is not about working harder but instead working differently. It is a message that I’ve articulated for years!
Leadership is about pressure and support and these plan reviews are characteristic of this notion. Even though we have some excellent practices occurring in our schools (possibly the best kept secret within our school system) pressure and support must be exercised. I am most impressed when I see our school administrators opening their doors and building lateral capacity within the division. Seldom is there the island mentality of the past or strict competition between schools. Rather, administrators are sharing best practices (with evidence) with other administrators. Pressure and support are built in!
We have reached a plateau, a strong learning plateau for most students, but we need to ramp it up to get to the next level and beyond, ensuring success for all students.
I cannot ask my staff to work harder, but I must ask them to work differently. Inspiring education is allowing our schools to create a new paradigm based on effectiveness and efficiency. There is great pride when I often witness schools and individual teachers embracing this concept. The freedom of our continuous improvement planning process seeks to build a system that is better for more students and assures communities of high levels of learning.
Those conversations, sometimes tough conversations occur within our CIP reviews. But they are beginning to be heard in our schools from administrators to staff and within staff too. What have you done in the last 30 days, what are you going to do in the next 30 days and what is your evidence or your indicators of success are questions we all need to ask ourselves, reflect and then act upon! Only then will we begin to do different instead of do more!!!