KASB leadership services have been traveling around the state working with boards, superintendents, and principals. We have been involved in many great discussions about “school improvement” the past few weeks. From training on boardsmanship and strategic planning to working with district administrators focused McREL’s Balanced Leadership and Evaluations a common theme is apparent. School districts that are using a big picture, systems approach to student achievement are starting to see the benefits of their efforts.
So what does leadership of school district look and feel like when done from a systems perspective?
Alignment is often referred to when we talk about the curriculum and instruction. We focus on gaps or redundancies within the system, resulting in unprepared students. This alignment is critical for students, but there is alignment that also must reflect the board’s vision to impact the work happening in classrooms. The board sets a vision and adopts policy consistent with the needs and expectations of the school district stakeholders. The district administrative team along with the board aligns actions and resources to make that vision happen. Then building administrators and teachers work within an established framework to focus on the necessary steps to accomplish the vision set by the board. The results of alignment are consistent expectations throughout the system around instruction and achievement, common vocabulary and processes within the system creating a defined sense of the work to be done.
Leadership Teams Engaged in Continual Learning
Peter Senge in the the Fifth Discipline book, discussed the three critical dimensions of team learning; 1) teams must think insightfully about complex issues-What is your process for asking the right questions to engage your team in some critical thinking about current issues in education?, 2) there is the need for innovative, coordinated action-How does your system inspire innovation to meet the needs of a changing student and community population?, 3) continually foster the development other learning teams to develop within the organization-What structures are established to develop a collaborative culture between building principals and teachers focused on student success?
Systemic Monitoring and Evaluation
How do we know if we are making progress if we never look at where we are going? School districts have to develop a culture around monitoring, reviewing, and evaluating all aspects of the system. We encourage leaders to formalize a process to frequently revisit goals, and outcomes to determine if they are tracking towards the desired vision. School districts consistently establish goals that clarify what they would like to accomplish, but often they are overlooked in the day to day challenges of running a school system. It’s important that leaders maintain a constant focus on the mission and goals.
When a district has a clear sense of why they exist and where they want to be in the future, advocating for support and resources within your community becomes an easier sale. Yes, I said sale! The recent controversy surrounding the “common core standards” is a perfect example of the importance of outreach. Educators did a wonderful job of sharing information and communicating within our circles. We were much less effective when it came to the community, politicians, and other stakeholders about sharing our ideals and beliefs. As leaders we must “paint the picture” and share a vision of how each of our students benefit when the school district continues to improve and innovate.
Take the Long View
As we are living through major shifts in the educational landscape, we start to focus on the individual initiatives and the timelines to get them implemented. If we are not careful, focusing on isolated initiatives, leads us toward disconnected systems, because the people impacted by the initiatives do not have the opportunity to understand how “it” fits with the overall direction of the system. We have to continually assist individuals impacted by the initiative to step back and survey the horizon to show them where and how these changes merge towards the common vision and direction that has been established by the board.
As educational leaders we must always take the time to explain “why” what we do is so important for students. A clear understanding of the systems approach will benefit our schools and communities as we make decisions for the future.