Monday, April 22, 2013

Impacting Student Achievement

The mission of KASB can be described in simple terms, be a voice for public education, impact student outcomes and serve our members.  Our members are the elected educational leaders in each district in Kansas.  They represent the needs of nearly every child in the state.  With the goal of student success at the top of every school board’s agenda, boards are looking for ways to continually improve.  While school boards look for answers they often hear about the how difficult it is to” impact student learning.”  The leadership services department at KASB can’t think of a statement further from the truth.  Current educational research outlines some of the necessary steps to ensure improvement in student achievement, hiring highly qualified teachers, and providing ongoing professional development are some of the most frequently referenced practices.  But there is an often overlooked practice ignored, one of which is the most powerful means for improving instruction, the use of formative evaluation with high quality feedback (coaching).

As the entire nation has looked to provide a way to help students succeed we often find ourselves inspecting individual trees rather than surveying and monitoring the entire forest.  That has caused us to overlook the obvious model, help teachers improve their craft.  Take the two most famous “Bills” in the state of Kansas, Snyder and Self, they have established cultures that value formative evaluation with feedback.  When you consider the success of the their programs, and reflect on what is heard and seen from the stakeholders around those programs, you often hear phrases like, “we are just trying to get better each day,” or “we have a system that works, we each need to do our part to improve that system.”  Think of the power in the those phrases and the understanding by the players that they have to continually  improve individually to help the system improve collectively.  There is ample data provided related to their performance that allows them to monitor and reflect on the improvement process, as well as define goals and expectations.  We would argue that teachers and leaders have the same types of data available when their systems are engaged in formative evaluation.  The formative evaluation process produces many opportunities for individuals to analyze data as it applies to instruction and performance.  This ultimately results in an opportunity to impact student learning and overall student achievement.  Formative feedback helps teachers and leaders understand their personal obligation to continually improve to help students achieve.

The role of district leaders is to have high quality instruction with low variability within the system.  To accomplish the true goal of improved student achievement, leaders must develop the capacity of teachers and leaders to identify and monitor instructional improvements.  This capacity is developed through the use of the formative evaluation process, which in turn provides data to guide decisions about professional development and district wide programing.  We feel it should be a collaborative effort directed at improving our system.  The public education system will only be as good collectively as we are individually.  Shifting our models of evaluation through the use of coaching and quality feedback to improve leadership and instruction is at the core to combating complacency and the status quo.

If you are ready to take on the challenge,  let us help you and your district with the battle for continuous improvement.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How to stop the dance...

It is the time of the year when school leaders are analyzing their current personnel, and trying to address their personnel needs for the upcoming year.  Too often at this time of the year, in our profession, when get into an unproductive process known as the “Dance of the Lemons.”  This is the phrase often used when teachers are shuffled to different assignments to minimize their impact on students.  The dance often leads to a process that is detrimental to the culture of an organization.  It is also costly in terms of time spent,  lack of effectiveness and student achievement.  No one really claims the phrase, “Dance of the Lemons,” but recent thought closely links these practices to a “culture of can’t” being present within the educational system.  A “culture of can’t” prevails when leaders falsely believe they are limited in their ability to act on the improvement of instruction, as described by Frederick Hess of American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.  Hank Levin, a professor in the Teachers College at Columbia University, further explains that a “culture of can’t” develops when, school boards and district leaders use laws and regulations, “as a scapegoat to justify maintaining existing practices.”

So how do we change the “culture of can’t,” and stop the “Dance of the Lemons?”  
School leaders must establish non-negotiable expectations focused on instruction.  These expectations should be developed using open communication which allows input from all stakeholders.  The expectations must be supported by professional development related to the development of quality instruction in each classroom.  This may sound like a daunting task, but the reality is it can be accomplished within a district when all stakeholders agree to engage in formative evaluation of staff with an intense focus on the improvement of instruction. Formative evaluation brings teachers and administrators together to analyze data about instructional practices within the schools.  As formative evaluation occurs, consistent patterns  begin to develop that give educational leaders insight into the supports required to improve instruction and impact achievement.  Formative evaluation leads to improved instruction in each classroom and throughout the system.  As expectations become clear and an improved understanding of the components of quality instruction are defined, it then becomes possible to design differentiated supports for the varying needs of teachers.  The formative evaluation process provides a working framework for improving instruction.  In the end, taking these steps to combat the “culture of can’t,” will  lessens the chance of having to engage in the unfortunate “Dance of the Lemons.”

So where does an instructional leader find such a formative evaluation system?
In Kansas we are fortunate that we have options when it comes to formative evaluation models.  The Kansas State Department of Education has spent time building the Kansas Educator Evaluation Protocol (KEEP) system.  Another option that several districts across the state are moving towards is the McREL Teacher Evaluation System.  KASB has partnered with McREL to provide access to the McREL Evaluation system which provides the framework for improving instruction by tying everything back to the research supporting quality instruction and quality schools.  Improving student achievement should be the goal of every school district in Kansas.  A quality evaluation system properly implemented will enhance instructional skills and provide an opportunity for teachers to have a greater impact on student success.