After a number of “false starts” Rachel and I are thrilled to be deep into a school improvement plan that we believe is on track to make a difference for our students. One of the critical distinctions between this experience and the “false starts” is that our goal is tied to student improvement.
On this side of things, it almost feels funny to make that statement, because it seems so- incredibly- evident. A school improvement plan by definition needs to be connected to student improvement, yet we endured a rough journey getting comfortable with that reality.
There has been a hesitation to tie a goal to measurable school improvement, because-- well, because -- that’s really scary! Of course, it is, and until recently, the “reasons” or as we see them now -- “excuses” made it impossible to move forward. For example, when we started these conversations in our building, we grappled with a fear of failure. What if we were not successful? What if we set a goal and the students didn’t meet it? Was the faculty ready for something like that? Was the administration prepared to take that risk? Was everyone invested enough to embrace the challenge?
So, what changed?
The most important thing comes down to this-- we can now see the target. Just like the students, if the goal is too abstract to actually see it then it is likely too abstract to actually achieve it. The adults in the building had to unpack the data and see for themselves where the students are compared to where they need to be. When they did the entire conversation changed, because the teachers themselves started trying to figure it out. They are asking questions, trying new things, and slowly engaging in the hard work of solving the problems revealed in the data.
We have not waved our magic wands and fixed it all. In fact, to some degree, our first attempts have been met with failure. After which, we had to step back and figure out what we could be doing better. The interesting thing in that reflective statement is the idea that “we could be doing better.” A few of our excuses left the table when we agreed that we can’t blame the students for not learning, and we can’t discard the goal as a “flavor of the day” program. Both of those approaches stagnate any progress we are making. Instead, we are accepting that if we already knew how to solve the problem we would be doing it. We don’t know, and we have something to learn together.
There is a slow growing determination to figure it out and make progress. The energy is different than it was when we went through the motions in the past. We’re focused on tangible, measurable student improvement, and we’re learning how to be better teachers for our students. It's a pretty cool place to be.