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.