Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Good Plan Requires Great Execution

When we think about change, more often than not, a plan is developed, implemented, and evaluated with the goal being improvement. The journey to improve is a process that requires various strategies that are aligned to a specific focus as outlined in a mission statement or vision document that describes the why. Most schools, districts, and organizations have both. The details on how to achieve both the mission and vision come to fruition in the form of desired goals and outcomes supported by specific measures and targets. The final piece to a good plan is the results. No matter how good a plan for change and improvement is, the proof is in the pudding. Here is where execution comes into play.



For the updated edition of Digital Leadership, I created the image above, which outlines the critical elements of a sound strategic plan. In a previous post, I focused on the essential questions as a means to ensure efficacy when time and resources are needed to get the change or improvement process going. While these are undoubtedly important, it is incumbent upon all involved to always think about how the plan will unfold in relation to mission, vision, goals, desired outcomes, and results. 

Mission and Vision

These two planning elements are often used interchangeably or mistaken for one another. Schools, districts, and organizations summarize their goals and objectives under the guise of each of these. Both of these serve different purposes but are often confused with each other. While a mission statement describes what the institution wants to do now, a vision statement outlines what they want to be in the future. Consider this from Glenn Smith:
Mission answers the question, “Why do we exist?” Vision answers the question, “What will the future look like as we fulfill our mission? What will be different?” While mission is about today, vision is about the future, what we will become.
The mission statement outlines the motivation for helping all learners succeed with their education. It provides a basis for how the resulting strategic plan will be developed and implemented. The mission provides the starting point of the journey while the vision adds clarity as to how to arrive at the preferred destination. Both are pretty much pointless without action.

Desired Outcomes and Goals

The plan is all about meeting the unique and diverse needs of learners today, first and foremost. As society continues to change, so should our strategies that align with the vision and help make the mission a reality. Each desired outcome and goal provide a building block to help transform your school or district in a way that best prepares learners now and in the future. The University of Kansas outlines three types of objectives that can be referenced to develop outcomes and goals:

  1. Process - These provide the groundwork or implementation necessary to achieve everything specified in the plan.
  2. Behavioral - These look at changing the behaviors of people (what they are doing and saying) and the products (or results) of their behaviors.
  3. Community-level outcomes - These are often the product or result of behavior change in many people. They are focused on change at the school or district level instead of on an individual level.

The concept of a Return on Instruction (ROI) and the innovative change process can significantly assist in the development of desired outcomes and goals. Once established, following the SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, timed) protocol will go a long way to ensuring success.

Measures and Targets

The only way to determine if outcomes and goals have been achieved is through the development of specific criteria by which to measure and analyze progress. After these are in place, accountability structures have to be aligned to each. If not, then the chances of success in terms of scalable improvement diminish. How you hold yourself or others in the case of schools and districts accountable for meeting determined measures and targets are not for me or other outsiders to dictate. However, executing any plan in a way that leads to efficacy requires this commitment.  

Results

Success doesn’t come by way of just words, but instead through actions that lead to tangible results. While talk gets the mission, vision, goals, desired outcomes, measures, and targets in place, it’s the qualitative and quantitative evidence that will determine if the plan is a success or not. Great execution of a plan might never achieve the exact results you had hoped for. The key, however, is to determine if they can clearly show in some way that the mission and vision have become a reality.

As the plan is constructed and the time nears for execution consider the following to stay on track:

  • Clear expectations and communication are vital.
  • Consensus is important.
  • Benchmarks help pave the way.
  • Accountability is the glue that holds everything together.
  • Results either articulate success or provide an opportunity to reflect and start anew.

Planning for change takes time. Executing a plan takes even more time. In both cases, patience, diligence, and commitment will be necessary. A good plan becomes great when it is executed in a manner that leads to evidence that the mission and vision are more than just words, but reality.


Sunday, December 1, 2019

Vet What You Buy

Teaching is tough. It might very well be one of the most challenging jobs on the planet when you consider the time that is put in both in and out of school. I, for one, would spend hours planning and grading in the evening, at night, and on weekends. The workload might have been exhausting, but I never second-guessed my career choice. As the years have passed, it seems like expectations and workload of teachers keeps increasing. What has resulted is a pursuit of ways to work smarter, not harder, while still improving outcomes for all learners. In the schools I have the honor of coaching in, I see more and more evidence of co-planning and sharing of resources both within the school and across the district as a means to lessen the load. I also see plenty of investments in materials from Teachers Pay Teachers. Herein lies the point of this post.

Let me be extremely clear. I am all for teachers selling lesson plans, assessments, support materials, and other resources to their peers. Pay for those who dedicate their lives to other people’s kids is totally inadequate not only in the United States but in other countries as well. I also feel that if the purchasing of quality resources can help lessen the burden of a teacher, then go for it. If something an educator created is pedagogically-sound, then, by all means, let’s get it in the hands of as many teachers as possible while making some cash in the process. Now here comes the rub. It is incumbent upon both teachers and administrators to ensure that what is being purchased and used with kids is actually good.



Now I am not saying there aren’t sound resources available on the site. However, I do question a great deal of what I see being used in classrooms across the country. Quite frankly, it’s not very good. Here is where educators have to be critical observers and consumers when something is purchased to support or enhance the curriculum in the classroom. Below you will see one of many examples that fall into the category of a resource that is not pedagogically sound. The assumption was that it was a rubric. You be the judge as to whether or not this is a quality resource that clearly conveys to the student or teacher what was learned.





When you think about a rubric, there have to be clear indicators as to what the student was able to demonstrate on their way to master a concept or standard. Let’s take a minute to process what a rubric really is and the role that it plays in assessment:
Rubrics are explicit schemes for classifying products or behaviors into categories that vary along a continuum. They can be used to classify virtually any product or behavior, such as essays, research reports, portfolios, works of art, recitals, oral presentations, performances, and group activities. Judgments can be self-assessments by students, or judgments can be made by others, such as faculty, other students, or field-work supervisors. Rubrics can be used to provide formative feedback to students, to grade students, and/or to assess programs.
There are no such categories in the example above, just the arbitrary awarding of points with no succinct rhyme or reasons. For example, what are the success criteria that justify the score? How does the number for each item or total score reflect what a student has really learned? Where is the connection to the standard(s) or concept? To put it bluntly, this is not a rubric, should not be advertised as such, and does not represent a pedagogically-sound way to assess students. Hence, the question must be raised as to why it was not only purchased but also used in numerous classrooms. In addition to “rubrics,” I also see a lot of worksheets. Again, I don’t have a problem with this. The issue arises when all, or the majority of the questions, are multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank at the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy (i.e., recall, knowledge).

I have said my piece and will now provide a practical course forward. The burden of responsibility doesn’t just fall on teachers and administrators where purchased resources are used in class, but even more so on the creator and seller. Buyers need to vet what they purchase to make sure it is a quality resource. Creators need to be cognizant of what they put up for sale. In both cases, the litmus test should be whether or not the resource type (and there are tons of options) aligns with good pedagogy, what the research says about effective teaching and learning, and sound instructional design.

My post doesn’t just refer to just sites like Teachers Pay Teachers, but also a wide range of materials from a variety of sources. To assist with the vetting process, I suggest you take a look at the Digital Instructional Materials: Acquisitions Policies for States site from SETDA. Here you will find so many resources that can be used to make the best decision and help ensure that you get your bang for your buck.

In the end, it is incumbent upon all educators to vet what they plan to buy (or use if it is a free resource), as we owe this to our learners.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Stages of Innovative Change

Change isn't coming as it is already on our doorstep. Granted, this has been the case for thousands of years thanks to either discoveries such as fire and cultivated crops or inventions that led to the creation of electricity, manufacturing, and expeditious travel. No organization or system in any field is impervious to this fact when one looks at a myriad of disruptive forces at play in society. In the case of education, the choice is to either adapt or evolve in ways that lead to improved outcomes aligned to teaching, learning, and leadership. Just because something worked in the past doesn't necessarily mean it is still an effective strategy now.

The desire or imperative to change depends on a combination of perspective, culture, and achievement. Neither is more important than the other, in my opinion, but all are informed in some way or another by results. Hence the pursuit of innovative practices to usher in needed change. More often than not, there is a will to innovate through the pursuit of new and different practices that aim to improve what our learners and we do inherent in our respective position. Just because we try something different doesn't mean that we or the practice is actually innovative. This is proven or disproven by a tangible result in the form of qualitative or quantitative evidence. To debate this fact takes away from the real power that innovation can have in education.

Now let's focus more on the process of innovative change. It begins with one person and his or her actions to move the needle on a specific practice. As I always say, don't expect others to do what you have not or have been unwilling to do yourself. Now don't get me wrong, this is a fantastic and needed start. However, change in the context of an entire school, district, organization, or system relies on moving the masses so that all learners, staff, or stakeholders benefit. Herein lies both the challenge and the opportunity inherent in the process. In Digital Leadership (2nd Edition), I provided the following image that highlights six common stages that schools work through in order to successfully implement innovative change that impacts the entire culture.





Status Quo

The rationale that leads to both a conversation and a need for change begins here. It is here where the most dangerous phrase in education typically rears its ugly head – That's the way we have always done it (TTWWADI). What results is either a sense of comfort (i.e., high test scores) or fear (what if we try something different and it doesn't work). In both cases, the pursuit of innovative practices either stops or never even begins. Acknowledging that the status quo is holding your system back and that something has to be done differently to improve outcomes gets the ball rolling.

Struggle

News flash – many people don't like change as the status quo presents cover from failure. With any new idea or strategy, there will always be a sense of personal and collaborative struggle. It's the latter that the majority of our energy has to focus on. Moving towards systematic transformation requires an understanding that the journey is rarely easy and seamless. The struggle is also defined by what seems like never-ending challenges such as time, money, support, infrastructure, inadequate professional learning, mindset, and colleagues who fill either the role of antagonist or naysayer. The struggle is real people, and to scale change, you must be prepared upfront.

Dissonance

The stage is characterized by a lack of agreement typically defined by inconsistencies between the beliefs one holds or between one's actions and one's beliefs. Dwight Mihalicz provides this great synopsis on the importance of this stage.
Discord is all around us. And conflict in organizations is nothing new. Why is conflict so pervasive in most organizations, to the extent that some organizations are dysfunctional by any definition? And yet employees tolerate the conditions. This has to do with the concept of dissonance. Dissonance has less to do with conflict and more to do with understanding how and when conflict incites change, and what needs to take place for change to happen seamlessly. 
Dissonance only comes into play when the system breaks down unpredictably and doesn't work. In this state, people are no longer willing to put up with it because there is now unpredictability with results causing discomfort, prompting the desire to change.
The main takeaway here is to embrace dissonance and use it as the fuel for innovative ideas.

Innovative Idea(s)

The foundation is now set for the stage where an innovative idea or strategy can be discussed, implemented, sustained, and evaluated for success based on a tangible result. When developing or presenting an innovative idea, keep these questions in mind:

  • Why will it improve what you or your learners do as well as the culture? 
  • How do you (or will) know it has led to an improvement? 
  • How do others determine if it has led to an improvement? 
  • What is needed to scale the effort(s)? 

Assimilation

In this stage, the innovative idea becomes absorbed into the very fabric of a school or district's cultural DNA. It isn't about one educator, classroom, or isolated practice. The idea takes form and is both embraced and implemented at scale. The key point here is while it is great to experience success at the individual level, real change that impacts the majority is assimilated across all aspects of teaching, learning, and leadership.

New Status Quo

The final stage is what the end goal of any innovative change effort should be, and that is the creation of a new status quo. It is at this point where you can hear and see through multifaceted evidence that new and different has actually led to a better result. What this ultimately looks and feels like will vary from school to school or system to system, but the fact remains that the change effort has been embraced and sustained.   

Innovation is a collective endeavor geared at not only individual but, more importantly, system improvement.  Research can be used to inform and influence the process but does not need to drive it. What is important is to show how innovative practices can, and will, improve our work.  Evidence that illustrates efficacy helps move innovation from an isolated practice focusing on small pockets to scalable change that impacts an entire culture. Start small, but think and plan for big while referring to the stages presented above. 

Innovate with a purpose, but make sure the venture extends well beyond an individual level. In the end, it's not about how much you innovate in education, but the resulting impact of the changes on the collective. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Great Leaders Embrace Multiple Styles

We have all heard the saying don’t put all your eggs in one basket. It represents a sound piece of advice for any leader, especially in the field of education.  The reason being is that a person in a position of power or influence should not concentrate all efforts in one area since initiating and sustaining change requires a dynamic mashup of strategies. The bottom line here is that if all of your resources and energy focus on just one thing, the chances of empowering the masses to embrace new ways of thinking or initiatives will be severely hampered.

As styles go, they are numerous, and in many cases, we, or others, often place us in one or another. This can be both good or bad, depending on perspective. Different people respond to different styles. What works for one might not for another and vice versa. Hence the imperative not to conform to one specific style. This is not to say that a leader can’t or shouldn’t excel in a particular style. However, a convergence of styles separates generalists from specialists when it comes to leadership. In terms of the successful implementation of innovative ideas, those who embrace a more general mindset get better results. Consider this perspective from Ideas for Leaders:
The core reason that generalists inspire and create greater innovation is their courage to make mistakes; this courage, in turn, is explained by the knowledge that they have skills that can be applied elsewhere. This is a major advantage for generalists. Innovation is risky. An additional factor contributing to the innovation success of generalists is that they have a perspective that allows them to look beyond assumptions and ‘think outside the box.’ As a result, the innovation they push is original and impactful.



Below are some common styles prevalent in leadership today.

Managerial

Whether we like it or not, management plays a pivotal role in leadership. Mark Miller provides this insight:
Great leaders ultimately must rely on a holistic approach to leadership—they must be both a visionary and a manager. They must know the strategy and the big-picture and know how to put it to work and ensure it gets done. They must inspire and connect to people individually. Great leaders are managers because they understand the specific ways that work needs to get done to be efficient and effective. Great managers are leaders because they take the tasks that need to get done and know how their talents fit and, more importantly, how to bring out the talents of others to gain even greater results.
Managing might not be flashy, but it certainly helps achieve results. Important aspects include establishing rules, meeting goals, having efficient operations, improving performance, setting priorities, and executing the strategic plan.  The truth is the best leaders and managers are interchangeable. Too often, however, people are one or the other. These leaders will miss vital tasks that ultimately drive team success.

Instructional

Successful schools and districts have leaders who prioritize instructional strategies that lead to improved learning outcomes. They possess keen insight and knowledge on both traditional and innovative pedagogical techniques that empower learners to think critically, construct new knowledge, and apply what has been learned in a variety of ways.  Instructional leaders roll up their sleeves and make the time to get into the trenches. Getting in classrooms and providing timely feedback to teachers is prioritized. Additionally, they engage in ongoing learning conversations with fellow administrators while seeking out the best professional development opportunities for staff.

Inspirational

Virtually everyone either wants or likes to work with a leader who inspires. These people not only help to establish a shared vision and plan for action but more importantly, they create an environment that motivates and empowers people to be their best.  Inspiring leaders take this a step further by demonstrating passion and commitment to the implementation of all aspects of the vision and resulting strategic plan for improvement. He or she talks the talk, walks the walk, and motivates everyone else to do the same. Eric Garton provides this take:
Inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions – and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control. Leaders who both inspire people and generate results find ways to constructively disrupt established behaviors to help employees break out of culture-weakening routines.
In the end, it is actions that ultimately inspire, not pie in the sky, and fluffy talk.

Transformational

Transformational leadership is based on a theory where a leader works with teams of educators to identify needed change, creating a vision to guide the change through innovative ideas, and executing the change in tandem with committed members of a school, district, or organization. It is a collaborative responsibility for taking action to reach future-oriented goals while meeting the intellectual, emotional, and physical needs of each student. Transformational leaders consistently make observations, listen intently, leverage a growth mindset, and, most importantly, take action to improve the organization.


Great leaders don’t pigeonhole themselves into one specific style. They openly embrace the benefits and rewards of being a generalist through convergence. In the end, leadership is not about telling people what to do but instead taking them where they need to be. It is challenging to accomplish this goal if all of the eggs are placed in the same basket.