Dear Colleagues,This week’s Update takes a turn away from the “tenaciously constant” direction of our Operational Expectations and Beliefs and on to the reflective and dynamic approaches we need to take in creating ongoing improvement strategies.
If you examine our Operational Beliefs, it should be no surprise that our individual, school, department and district goal-setting are designed to support a culture of continuous learning and improvement. “Intentional collaboration and teamwork;” “utilize multiple sources of data to provide purposeful feedback to students and to improve instructional design and delivery;” “dynamic learning organization;” “cultivate strong, shared leadership throughout our organization;” “constantly connect people to the nobility of our mission” – all of these aspects of what we believe create the foundation of a culture that engages in a relentless pursuit of improved ways to make a positive difference in the lives of the 55,000 students we serve.
A change in our School Improvement Planning this year was in line with this concept of turning beliefs into action. Let me offer a little background on why that change was important.
The era of high-stakes accountability based on measured student performance on state tests, I believe, had an unintended negative effect on School Improvement Planning in many places. In an effort to show how “accountable” we were, our goals became written in terms of increases we would seek in state test results. It seemed logical—the goal is to improve student achievement.
There are two problems with this approach. The first is the notion that our success should be measured by the results on one testing instrument. The rebuke of that concept could take many pages and is really not the strategic planning issue at hand. Suffice it to say that no test is good enough to earn that weight. As you will see when I share information about our Outcome Indicators next week, we will take a much more thoughtful and multi-metric approach to measuring our success.
The second problem is far more subtle but has had a profound effect on the professional and strategic approach we should take to School Improvement Planning (SIP). Any measure of student performance isn’t really a “goal” in improvement planning. It is an “outcome.” Please understand that I think we should bow to no one in our rich analyses of a variety of student outcomes as a means of giving us potential direction in goal setting. Once we are armed with the student challenges highlighted by any of these outcomes, however, we need to shift to reflection and learning related to our professional work.
What do we know about the programs, methods and practices of teachers, schools or districts that seem to help students meet these challenges? How does that compare to ours and what might we learn from them? This reflective process should put us on a path of working on a small number of improvement goals with specific learning and action plans designed to help chart a strategic and innovative course to improving our delivery methods and models.
The goals are related to our performance, not the students’. In the end, we come full circle and use both qualitative and quantitative measures to examine whether we believe our plan helped us as educators and ultimately the students as learners. Certainly we would connect student learning outcome measures back to the data that helped put us on this improvement path in the first place—and the improvement cycle continues.
When the outcome became the goal, it too often had the effect of making the strategies in SIP’s a list of “educratic” buzzwords and seminar topics. What’s more, we tended to put a lot of them in there so that anyone who needs to read and pass judgment on the plan would know we were really working out here. Too often it became a compliance tool rather than a professional, strategic planning tool that really drove action.
We are making sure that you have the professional judgment and responsibility to create goals and strategies that you believe are important for our schools, to help our students—and then to pursue them with great energy. If they are “stretch” goals emerging out of the process noted above, the evaluation of implementation is around fidelity, not perfection. Did we do what we set out to do? We hope that the reflective, professional process we used to define our efforts inevitably leads to growth for us and for our students. Sometimes, however, we realize that our strategies need to be revised or that we aren’t getting or didn’t get the results we hoped for. That doesn’t signal penalty but rather learning. “We know more today than we did yesterday so what does that mean for tomorrow?”—and as noted above, the cycle continues. It is a professional way to work.
Upcoming changes in our teacher evaluation will follow this same continuous improvement mindset. Our focus will be on utilizing our evaluation efforts to build everyone’s capacity as opposed to some “done to you” methodology where in the end we will tell you how you did. The cornerstone of our evaluation efforts will be around asking teachers to create a thoughtful professional growth goal, created by using the same type of reflective rationale described above for an SIP. It won’t require eight pages to articulate or milk crates of evidence to evaluate. It will be used as a means of informing school and district leadership about how we might support individual growth efforts and how teachers might come together to support each other. You will hear more about this in the coming weeks but please know that we will value substance above volume and growth and learning above compliance.
One final thought is important. Inherent in the foundation of any evaluation and improvement planning are some beliefs about the professionalism of those involved and the trust you place in them. If there is a lack of trust in the professionalism or the work ethic of those in the organization, you create very directive approaches to planning, delivery and evaluation. Frankly, it is happening in far too many school districts.
The processes I have described are not for the passive, the unprofessional or the non-motivated. Truthfully, it takes special people to passionately live in a culture of critical, reflective and continuous improvement. They are people who are willing to trade the comfort of complacency for the uncertainty and temporary failure that can be a part of innovation. They are willing to trade it because that is the path to greatness and, for them, the mission is just too important to work any other way.
Fortunately for the children of this community, Plano ISD is loaded with people of this character. We intend to be a shining example of what can be accomplished when planning and evaluation is built on a foundation of trust, professionalism, collaboration, ownership and mutual accountability.
Once again let me say “thank you” for all that you do for our children.
Dr. Brian T. Binggeli
Superintendent of SchoolsSuperintendent's Update | February 26, 2016