Define learning. Define success. It’s messy.

blog 4Let’s continue our beliefs conversation… what do we believe is the definition of learning.  After a very clear understanding has been established that people are our most valued resources over programs comes the importance of defining what we do in school.  As elementary as this sounds, this is one of those crucial conversations that if left out will result in people moving in different directions and meaningless initiatives that lead to purposeless change or even worse yet complacency.  For us at Brookside, it started as a conversation about our mission.  Through these conversations, it was discovered that we did not all agree on our purpose nor did we agree on what learning looks like on our campus.  In my experience, we can often mistake teaching for learning.  Unfortunately, just because we taught it doesn’t mean our students learned it.  This was a messy, personal, and controversial topic – who would have thought?  As I reflect now, I believe it was because we had lost real sight of our purpose as educators on our campus.  We focused on the teaching and the teacher in all that we did- the lesson planning, the school operations, the kinds of clubs and organizations offered, and in how we communicated.   Because we were out of focus, we failed to remember whom we really serve- our students.   The challenge next was to ask ourselves, “Are we doing what is best for our learners or what makes us comfortable?”  Uh oh- this means we had to address comfort zones, fear, complacency, accountability, and control. As we began to focus more on WHO we taught first then we were more prepared to talk about HOW to best teach our WHO.  This resulted in each department publishing agreed upon best instructional practices that we vowed to employ from that point forward.  As new pedagogical research is shared and as students’ needs demand something different, we revisit our published practices.  The idea is that we agree on what is high yield and what is not based on ongoing response to our learners.  We commit to letting go of practices that makes us comfortable and agree to allow our learners to lead our instructional decisions.  So we find ourselves back at valuing people (our students) over pre-packaged plans.  You see…  if we as leaders value our people (educators) they will then feel compelled to value their people (students).  One thing I left out that emerged as a big monster through these messy yet meaningful conversations was… CONTROL.  COMPLIANCE. RULES.  So…  up next comes the belief system we had to delve deeper into… a compliant community vs. a learning community.

Always choose people over programs.

As mentioned in my first post, transformation of any kind starts with what is going on in the heads of the people belonging to the organization – their beliefs. This is because to shift beliefs in the minds of our educators in schools, we must first ignite and inspire their hearts. In my experience, our belief systems drive our daily actions, interactions, and our words.  Therefore, the first belief that I find is vital in beginning to transform schools into learning communities is the belief that your power to create school improvement ALWAYS lies in the right people over programs. Time and time again, we buy into high dollar programs in hopes that this will create the change we need to see in our schools. Then when we don’t see the changes we felt we were promised, we blame the effectiveness of the program.  If the teachers in our schools do not feel they are agents of change, that students success lies in their hands, or that they are not trusted to make important decisions that can increase student learning, improvement WILL never come to fruition.  It is absolutely the Principal’s job to create campus structures to support teacher efficacy, leadership, and voice.  We must create environments where teachers are empowered to quit asking permission to innovate and recognize that this is promoted and expected as a response to students’ needs.  When we continue to allow each other to blame programs, we not only waste money, but worse yet, we perpetuate a culture of weak teacher agency and efficacy.  School transformation is highly dependent upon EMPOWERED educators who thrive off of risk taking and innovation.  This kind of leadership requires vulnerability as it implies you, as the leader, do not have all the answers, but will support establishing the conditions for their success ideas.  Stay tuned for some stories of ways we have tried this…

Below is a picture of our “Let’s Hear It For Our Heroes” event held as a welcome back for our heroes, our teachers, on their first day back from summer break.

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Charting the Journey of Public School Transformation

This blog is the result of years and years of reflection of how to truly transform school into a learning community in which students, teachers, parents, and community are all working together to support student learning. I am often asked how do you go about this enormous task of transforming a school into a community which prioritizes its sole purpose to support student learning.  I will start by sharing that it is always a journey. It must always remain a journey because students change, communities change, and  research shows us higher yield instructional practices.  Having served as a Principal at multiple campuses, I have to come to discover having a understanding of the steps of school transformation is possible.  However, make no mistake school transformation has more to do with belief shifts than it does with check lists and action steps.  Although these are necessary, no action without common and agreed upon beliefs will yield any improvement.  In fact, it will create change for change sake, which, in my experience, creates frustration and resentment.  Here in this blog, I will back up to chart what I have been able to learn about school transformation, as well as journal the continuing journey of creating a learning community within a public school of diverse needs, abilities, beliefs, and backgrounds.