Friday, May 24, 2013

KASB/McREL and Kansas Ed Service Centers

Partnering to “Make A Difference”

The economic resources of education systems in Kansas have been stressed mightily in the last few years, while the demand for improving student performance has increased. Sound familiar? It’s a situation many state organizations are in across the nation, forcing us all to ask ourselves what services we can continue to afford to deliver in an era of resource scarcity.

Business gurus such as Keith McFarland and Peter Drucker coach that difficult economic times are actually prime times for businesses to strengthen themselves by refocusing on their core missions and customer needs, and re-evaluating their strategies for service delivery. 

Putting this theory into practice, at the Kansas Association of School Boards we heard from our member districts and agencies that one of their largest areas of need was the lack of quality professional development for school and district leaders. And through a refocus on the part of our mission to “provide a culture of collaboration,” we sought a partner to help maximize resources and allow us to provide such PD opportunities on a large scale.

We chose to work with McREL, a leading non-profit education research and service organization based in Denver, together developing a partnership that gave our KASB staff leaders the training to deliver McREL’s leadership PD program, called Balanced Leadership. Through the partnership, KASB has helped hundreds of principals and administrators statewide gain skills and knowledge about research-proven leadership practices that are positively linked to student achievement. Additionally, the partnership agreement allowed KASB to retain a share of the training fees when we deliver the PD, providing our organization with a financial benefit. 

That initial partnership worked well, so this past summer KASB again partnered with McREL to provide our school leaders with training on a classroom observation program called Power Walkthrough. This web-based program runs on tablets, iPads, and other mobile devices, and helps principals turn brief classroom observations into meaningful opportunities for coaching teachers to higher levels of performance. As of now, 26 districts across the state are using the program, and they’re seeing deeper discussions throughout their schools on the educational practices that make a difference for students. Data generated from the program also gives principals and administrators insight into how well PD initiatives are being implemented within their schools and districts. As a result, these districts are becoming more efficient and focused on using research-based instructional practices in their classrooms.

As the old saying goes, “timing is everything.” In July 2012 the state of Kansas received an ESEA waiver from the United States Department of Education, allowing the state to move in a direction that is more aligned with our local needs and values. As part of the waiver, all districts in Kansas must implement an evaluation system that is formative in nature by the fall of 2014. The established partnership between KASB and McREL has given our local school districts options to consider when adopting a formative evaluation system, as McREL’s teacher and principal evaluation systems is approved by the state as a viable option that meets the ESEA waiver requirements. School districts across Kansas have taken an interest in the evaluation systems because of their research base, ease of use, and focus on the right leadership and instructional practices to help students achieve at higher levels.

To further serve our member school districts, KASB partnered with our statewide network of educational service centers, expanding the capacity of our collaborative system by helping local ESC centers become trained to provide high-quality professional development in their regions.  Although it is early in development, it appears to have enhanced interest and participation from educators around the state.

These partnerships have allowed KASB to strengthen our capacity to deliver great services to our member districts, meeting their needs even in a time of resource scarcity. By becoming facilitators, connectors, and quality assurance managers, we can maximize our own staff efforts within KASB and continue to provide these services. 

Through the partnership approach, we retain local control, context, and relationships, while also giving our members access to the best national education research, products, and experts.
Our challenges are ever present, but our shared goal of improving student achievement has forged a strong relationship for everyone in the coalition. And in the end, the students, teachers, and educational leaders of Kansas have been the true beneficiaries of this partnership.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Guidelines for Effective Teams

Guidelines for Effective Teams

Dr. Jordan and I have been working this past year with boards helping them concentrate on establishing a vision while focusing on continuous improvement.  Many of our discussions evolved around communication, trust, and teamwork.  One of our dilemmas has been the assumption that everyone has experienced or been on a  high performing team at some point in their lives.  From our perspective being part of a team was easy and fun.

Author Peter Senge,  in his book, The Fifth Discipline stated:  When you ask people about what is is like being part of a great team, what is most striking is the meaningfulness of the experience.  People talk about something larger than them themselves, of being connected, of being generative.  It becomes quite clear that, for many, their experience as part of truly great teams stand out as singular periods of life lived to the fullest.  Some spend the rest of their lives looking for ways to recapture that spirit. (Senge 1990: 13)

Based on Senge’s insight and our assumption, we thought it would be good to share some the keys to working as a team.  The following ideas should help you and your board become a more effective team.  

  1. Make sure everyone has a chance to contribute ideas and solutions.
  2. Recognize and respect differences in others, everyone is not going to agree on all issues.
  3. Value the ideas and contributions of others, which is how we learn and grow.
  4. Listen and share information, it does no good to ignore others and then wonder why they won’t listen to you.
  5. Ask questions and get clarification, to make good decisions boards need good data.  If you don’t understand the information it is important you keep asking questions until you do.
  6. Participate fully and keep your commitments, great teams can count on each other.
  7. Be flexible and respect the partnership created by a team -- strive for the "win-win".
  8. Have fun and care about the team and the outcomes, it is an honor to be elected to your board.  Enjoy the time you spend serving the students in your district.

As we mentioned earlier, communication and trust are critical ingredients for team building.  The power of reflection can help enhance the board's understanding of teamwork.  The following questions should help you and your board reflect on the current practices of the board.

Do we:
•  Conceal weaknesses and mistakes from each other?
•  Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback?
•  Jump to conclusions about the intention of others?
•  Fail to tap into one another's skills and experiences?
•  Waste time and energy managing their behaviors for effect?
•  Hold grudges?
•  Dread meetings and avoid spending time together?

If the answer is yes to this list of questions, it is an indicator that troubles are brewing.  When difficulties arise leaders address the issues.  The team is too important to the success of the district to ever “underperform”.  High performing teams understand that conflict is dealt with openly and is considered important to decision-making and personal growth. All members should feel their unique personalities are appreciated and well utilized and can benefit the success of the team.  Norms for working together have been developed and seen as standards for everyone to follow.

In conclusion, it is important that board members clearly understand when the team has met with success and all should share in this equally and proudly.  The impact of your role on the lives of the students in your district should never be underestimated.  You are all members of the most important team in any district.  The success of your team determines the success of the district.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Don't Be Andy

One of the many common discussion topics from the new board member workshops the past couple of weeks has been  “don’t be Andy”  That statement refers to a video series we are using to teacher boardsmanship with sample case studies.  Andy is the star of the video series.  The case studies are used to allow small group discussions which allow board members to gain experiences and learn from others.  One of the important lessons that we learn from “Andy” is that he is not a “bad” person with evil intentions.  Andy often has good ideas but he just doesn’t understand how to be a productive board member or a team player.

Some of Andy’s actions demonstrate inappropriate behaviors related to chain of command, communication, executive sessions, and open sessions.  These videos created some wonderful teachable moments.  The new board members spent time at their tables sharing insights, comparing ideas and learning from each other.  Mentor board members and superintendents often were involved in the dialogue and shared the experiences they have had with their current board. KASB staff took the behaviors displayed by Andy and provided the participants insight into “why” the behaviors are damaging to board culture and potentially illegal.

I think almost all new board members in attendance have come to realize that being a quality board member and understanding how to better serve their students will be challenging.  Developing a culture of service within a district requires a clear vision, high expectations, on-going professional learning, and resources aligned to each of these respective areas.

It has been exciting to meet the new board members at the workshops.  We have been impressed by their willingness to learn about becoming successful board members.  As a matter of fact, it is not uncommon to hear board members remind each other as the meeting ends “don’t be Andy”.

Friday, May 3, 2013

New Board Member Workshops, State Tour 2013

As many of you know we have been traveling around the Kansas working with newly elected board members.  We went to Garden City, Oakley, Beloit, and  Kansas City the first week.  Last week we were at Greenbush, Clearwater, and Topeka.  It goes without saying we have met a lot of great people that are interested in public education.  We, Dr. Moeckel and Dr. Jordan spend our time focused on developing boardsmanship and learning about student achievement.  Other topics include advocacy, policy, legal, and finance.

We have had lots of positive feedback and generated many great discussions.  The range of questions is always fun and this year we have add several “case studies” throughout the day that increase participation and create many teachable moments.

These events have started the process of developing a high performing school board team.  New board members have been able to draw from the experiences of mentor board members and their superintendent, to give them confidence to take on their new role as a board member.  The next step for school boards is to blend the new board members’ perceptions and beliefs into the vision and goals currently established with the existing board.  This is an important step that has to occur soon after the new board members come on July 1.  KASB is always available to work with boards as they go through this team building process.