Although a "clean, well-lighted place" is deeper than cleanliness, it starts there. Students deserve to come to a school that is consistently well-kept. A number of our students are in despair and their home lives are unorganized and in disorder. Having a predictably clean entry, hallway, bathroom, and classroom sets the stage for learning. It sends a message to students that they have something to come to each day - something with substance, something predictable, something with order.
The old man in the short story feels alone, unwanted and in a deep despair. The interaction in the story between the two waiters and the old man happen daily in our lives. Like the old man, some students show up simply to confront loneliness and have a purpose. Like the waiters, teacher either live their jobs where teaching gives them purpose or they simply see it as a job - not a place that provides comfort and routine.
School leaders must make sure that the work they do ensures that their schools are "clean, well-lighted places" and as long as students are showing up, we need to ensure that we are "open" and ready to serve.
"It was the light of course but it is necessary that the place be clean and pleasant. You do not want music. Certainly you do not want music.... What did he fear? It was not a fear or dread, It was a nothing that he knew too well. It was all a nothing and a man was a nothing too. It was only that and light was all it needed and a certain cleanness and order."
- Ernest Hemingway
This morning started like each of the past few years. Teachers and staff congregated on a cool, August morning under the skywalks while principals whipped up pancakes. Teachers, support staff, and custodians ate and enjoyed each others company and then introduced all the new faces to the group. Every bit of the event was the same as the past. Eat - Chat - Laugh. We then ventured into the auditorium for the annual "Vision" speech.
I hope teachers found a sense of urgency with my opening.
This year, the difference came in that annual vision meeting. I hope teachers found a sense of urgency with my opening. That by staying focused on what our kids need, we will build upon the successes of the past few year. We discussed big obstacles and challenges we face (overcoming language acquisition, ensuring high expectations for all students, and supporting each other through change). For the first time, on the first day, I laid out five non-negotiable expectations that we set to hold each other accountable for increasing student achievement:
The desired outcome of our building goals and non-negotiable expectations is to decrease teacher variability within the building, increase teacher efficacy (both personal and collective), and ensure student learning for all students no matter their unique circumstance.
With teachers implementing the five non-negotiable with fidelity, the building leadership monitoring the implementation data, and leadership focused on supporting teacher success through AIW, SIOP, and Liferacy, we will achieve our goals of improving student achievement and decreasing the achievement gap.
We know it will be tough. It is change and sometimes change gets messy. That is why it was so important to receive teacher input on what each of them needed to be successful. That's why the consulting teachers are using that information to develop a support plan.
I committed to teachers today, and again now, that I have never been so ready to be the "champion" and ensure our teachers are "on the path" and have every support they need to become expert teachers and remain focused on doing what works no matter how hard our jobs are today.
This image is of a quote board. It is on display in the auditorium but will find its forever home in our Professional Learning Community room. The goal is to get teachers reflecting on their current level of expectations. The key will be connecting what we want students to achieve with the supports to help them achieve it.
In working on professional development plans and goals, we reflect on how we can monitor implementation and provide feedback for teachers. The key is making student learning visible.
John Hattie's meta-analysis of nearly 1200 meta-analysis' ranked 195 "influences and effect sizes related to student achievement." The average effect size was 0.40 and he declared that number to be the "hinge point" with anything above that works best in education to improve student achievement.
Taking items from "Do we have the same vision and do we have the right resources?" to "Are we having and impact, is it worthwhile, is it sufficient?"
Six Influences that Matter Most
Below are six influences that were described by Peter DeWitt (@PeterMDeWitt) for mattering most and having the greatest impact.
This week has been a week of learning. We spent a day in a poverty simulation, a day with McREL building an understanding for writing across the curriculum, a few days at School Administrators of Iowa Annual Conference, and a day diving deeper into Sheltered Instruction Observational Protocol. My mind is swimming with the great things we are doing and the things we must do to leverage our resources and focus to address our needs.
My takeaway learning that has shaped my vision for the upcoming school year is grounded in three major areas: Teacher Input and Collective Efficacy, Collaborative Leadership, and Feedback for Learning.
Teacher Input and Collective Efficacy
Our teachers know I struggle at delegation. This is true in both thought and action. I struggle at handing over tasks that I know I can do and do well. Handing things over will help us achieve our goals. First brought up through our work this week with McREL in our Writing Across the Curriculum foundation work, we discussed what we can do as a team that we cannot do alone. I must give up the idea of "being the one" to improve student achievement. The first thing that must be done is to improve the avenues for teacher input in the academic program of our school. This will be more evident on the first day back with teachers. By increasing teacher input, we should simultaneously increase our school's collective efficacy.
At the right is a picture from @PeterMDeWitt and his research on collaborative leadership and visible learning. The "Collaborative Leadership Framework" illustrates the four quadrants of instructional leadership and places leadership styles along the continuum of partnerships and outcomes. Using this model, I am a negotiator. I revel in "knowing" the best practice and what must happen to get it done. I work tirelessly to achieve the goal and usually without delegating and doing it alone. Creating teacher buy-in (through input and conversations), student learning will improve. When teachers believe they make a difference, that their peers are competent in curriculum and instruction, our school will be better place for student to learn and grow because it is a better place where teachers learn and grow.
Feedback for Learning
A common theme this summer, in the sessions I attended at SAI and journals/books/blogs I read, has been the decline in the usefulness teachers are experiencing with observations and the evaluation process. It has also become evident in the conversations I have had with teachers. Just this week an EDWeek Blog addressed the topic (Click Here to read that blog). The current process for many schools, including our own, has become more of a task of compliance than of growth or reflection. Our leadership team has reflected on the process by which we use observations and evaluations to enhance student learning and teacher performance. Through team meetings, we have decided to pursue an enhance process to make the observation and evaluation cycle more meaningful. Michael Fullan states that collaborative cultures where the focus is on improving teacher practice, where teachers learn from on another, and ones that are "well-led and supported" by the principal, are the most effective in closing the achievement gap (Learning is the Work). This requires principals to provide feedback on three main areas: teacher collaboration, implementation of professional development in the classroom, and teacher reflection. We understand that feedback focused on things that matter (Hattie's work shows that formative feedback for teachers has an effect size of 0.9) will have a substantial impact. Those things that matter are planning, instruction, and assessment.
Ryan Dumkrieger is the principal of Sioux City North High School.