This past week, over an intense 3-day period, members of senior administration and I visited all fourteen schools in the division to review continuous improvement plans (CIPs). This process occurs every 6-7 weeks and allows senior administration an in-depth view of the work occurring in the schools. It may sound a little intimidating (3-6 senior administrators descending on the school), but strong trust continues to be developed between school and system leaders that enables this process to be one of information gathering, data collecting and engaging conversations.
Three questions (or slight variations) are consistently asked to frame the conversation in order to review the plan.
- What have you done since the last visit to achieve the goals your school has set?
- What are you going to do before the next visit to achieve the goals your school has set?
- What data or evidence are you collecting to make sure you are making progress on the goals you have set?
There are two important aspects of this process that need to be highlighted. The first, is that it is the schools who set their goals based on their own context. While they certainly fit within the board’s strategic priorities (which they helped develop), they own their goals. The requirement for outside accountability is minimized because internal assurance is raised. Schools take ownership of their own work. My role during these meetings, is certainly one of gaining a better understanding of what is happening in the school. But just as important, is the need to act as a critical friend who seeks to clarify, reaffirm, and/or redirect through listening and leading with questions. While I’m extremely proud of the work occurring in our schools, that does not mean that some of these conversations are tough, because brutal facts always have to be confronted.
The most difficult part for our administrators in these reviews, surrounds the collection of data and evidence. As a whole in education, we’ve not been overly successful in this collection especially in a quantitative form. We always have some great narratives and should never lose those pieces of evidence but we need to go deeper and search harder for other forms of data beyond the qualitative. It is not about reducing everything to a number, because numbers don’t measure everything but ensuring that we have more to go on than our own professional judgment and assumptions. We should always be looking for the evidence and searching for the research.
Educators continue to be far more reflective on their practice today and constantly seeking evidence and examples assists in that process. Asking oneself, “What will it look like when my students get it right?” or “How will I know when they get it right?’ supports the reflective nature of teaching and learning. Collecting the evidence should not be feared but rather embraced. And when collected, it must be communicated to our students, parents, and community. Our continuous improvement plan reviews are about trust and verification and they promote a strong assurance model for education.