Sunday, March 5, 2023

When Growth is the Only Path Forward

No pain, no gain has been a common saying for years. Truth be told, getting better is hard work, no matter the context. When faced with adversity, we take one of two paths. The first is seeing the inherent opportunity in a challenge through a growth mindset. Sometimes that means looking beyond traditional metrics of success to find other areas where the needle can be moved. Just because you are already good at something should not hinder progress in other areas. The second option is to develop a sense of reluctance to push forward. Many factors, such as fear and comfort, can lead us in this direction. These can both stymy change efforts or develop an illusion that everything is just “peachy.”

Truth be told, when it comes to education, there is no perfection, no matter where quantitative and qualitative metrics reside. Even if you have the best test scores, graduation rates, innovative practices, and attendance numbers, growth should still be pursued. Authentic leadership is being honest and vulnerable about where you are to help others get to where they need and want to be to succeed. Whether you lead a district, organization, school, or classroom, you should always strive to get better. There is always work to be done and effective educators embrace this wholeheartedly.  

Consider the following questions when it comes to professional growth:
  • Who do we serve?
  • Why are our practices effective or not?
  • How can we improve?
  • What will tell us whether or not we are successful?
  • Where do we go from here?

A standout example of this is Quest Academy Junior High School in Utah. During the spring of 2022, I met Nicki Slaugh, who serves as principal, and many of her staff at a school system where we were all there to facilitate professional learning on Personalized Competency-Based Learning (PCBL). In typical fashion, I moved from ideas and concepts to concrete examples of evidence from my other coaching projects to illustrate practicality and efficacy. In Nicki’s words, she saw many direct connections to what she and her staff were doing at Quest, but more importantly, she saw an opportunity to grow. It was at this point that we planned longitudinal work over the course of the year, which included a book study using Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms

After several workshops, I began coaching cycles in the fall of 2022. What I immediately saw blew my mind as it was some of the best examples of personalization at scale that I have ever seen. In every classroom, I saw evidence of a vibrant culture of learning and competency-based strategies where students followed a unique path and worked at their own pace. Teachers were seen pulling students based on data for targeted support in small groups or individually in math and ELA. Rubrics were everywhere and accessible in Google Classroom. I also saw the consistent use of exit tickets and pathways to provide feedback. My brief summary does not do justice to what these teachers and their leader have accomplished. It is simply amazing. 

After reading the paragraph above, you are probably wondering why I am even supporting Quest. Well, this ties directly to the title of my post. Even though they are clicking on all cylinders in many areas, Nicki and her staff live by the mantra that growth is a never-ending journey. Collectively, we came to the consensus that there were opportunities to grow in the use of high-agency strategies, most notably voice and choice, as well as the development of customized supports schoolwide. Thus, we created a personalized coaching plan to target these focus areas. 

To date, there has been so much progress made. I have included a few pictures below, but to get a better sense of all that is happening at Quest, take a look at THIS PRESENTATION Nicki and I have facilitated for the Utah State Board of Education in person and virtually. You will see what they already had in place, but also growth in the areas of station rotation, flipped lessons, playlists, amplification of voice through technology and dry-erase surfaces, rigor, and relevance. Please note that this is only a small sampling of evidence. 

The culture of learning that Nicki has established at Quest empowers teachers to take risks and actively reflect on their practice. After each coaching session, she takes my feedback and then works with her staff to pull out the most essential parts. Growth is happening because Nicki and her teachers own the process. They change not because they necessarily have to but because they want to in an effort to serve their students better. I have been so impressed that I took my team to Quest to see firsthand what true personalization looks like as we put the finishing touches on our support model for districts and schools across the world. Nicki shared the following:
"To be the 1%, you need to do what 99% are either hesitant or unwilling to do. Our entire school culture is based on always reaching for better. We had already implemented several aspects of PCBL, but upon meeting with Eric, it was clear that we still had room for growth. While listening to Eric present, I felt he was my kindred spirit. It was so exciting for us to meet someone who shared our passion and vision. We had already experienced how valuable feedback was in helping our students grow, so we were excited for the opportunity to receive feedback from an expert in the PCBL field to help take us to the next level. The strategies Eric has given my teachers have been invaluable. He has connected with both my students and staff and has genuinely become part of our team."
My point is as simple as it is proud. Growth can and should be the only path forward, no matter where you are in your practice or as a system. Professional learning should be anything but “cookie cutter” and personalized based on your needs and goals. It should be something you want to engage in, not viewed as another thing to do or a waste of time. If you want to have a conversation about what this could look like in your district, organization, or school, send me an email. 

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