Thursday, July 24, 2014

Balanced Leadership, being intentional with leadership

 “Summer is three months off between the end of school and the start of the next school year.”  How often do educators hear that quote?  Recently at KASB a group of 18 educational leaders took some of that “time off,” to gain a better understanding of the research surrounding effective educational leadership.  As participants in the Balanced Leadership program, this group of educational leaders will spend a total of seven days working with the Leadership Services staff refining and developing their skills as educational leaders.  The participants spent the first two days unpacking the research associated with the McREL Balanced Leadership framework, and reflecting on their own leadership behaviors.  They discussed and reflected on how they manage change they face within their schools.  One of the key pieces of knowledge educational leaders discussed is how the magnitude of change is directly connected to the perceptions of the individual experiencing the change.  
The educational leaders were also asked to reflect on their school’s focus. Are we spending our time and resources on people and programs that impact achievement? The administrative teams reviewed research and discussed ideas that will yield the desired results? McREL’s Balanced Leadership program is designed to enhance the skills of building level leaders.  A major outcome of the McREL Balanced Leadership framework, is equipping leaders to shift the focus to those practices that have research based, results driven programs.  
Is our school community purposeful?  Have all stakeholders agreed on outcomes that align to our students’ needs. Class members discussed topics ranging from developing collective efficacy to improve and enhance building culture to managing first and second order change. Those are the core questions the educational leaders considered as they assessed their school community.  Our school community often has not answered these critical questions, and consequently do not make the desired gains, as their processes and resources are spread too thin.
The educational leaders here at KASB early this week spent time working and sharing knowledge and insights, learning from past experience as they worked to improve their leadership skills.  It is always impressive to work with committed, hardworking school leaders.

The educational leaders’ Balanced Leadership training is a partnership between KASB and McREL.  It is based on the proven research and resources of McREL and focuses participants on the knowledge and skills needed to bring about the changes required to improve student achievement.  For more information, please contact KASB.  

Leadership for Tomorrow heads to southwest Kansas

Every year since the Leadership for Tomorrow program was established at KASB in 2004, a session has been held in western Kansas. This year was no exception. Fifteen of the 17 participants were in Ulysses and Hugoton last week to learn about schools in the two communities. As is generally the case, learning about the communities was also a valuable part of the visit. Several of the participants, other than passing through western Kansas on their way to Colorado, had never had the opportunity to learn about the richness of life in western Kansas, particularly in the booming southwest part of the state.

From massive fields of succulent corn enabled by the creeping mechanical giants known as a center pivot irrigation system to the feedlots that allowed thousands of cattle at a time to be fattened up on their last stop before a slaughterhouse located in Liberal, Dodge or Garden City, our travelers were able to observe first-hand the different industries that feed a hungry nation. They also had opportunities to learn about the diverse populations of the area. What had originally been predominantly white communities 20-30 years ago are now heavily Hispanic, while the schools themselves are a minority/majority district, as in Ulysses, or a very balanced mix, as in Hugoton. The blending of ethnicities is not the only change. On top of the original Protestants and Catholics, there is a growing number of Mennonites arriving from Mexico that speak neither Spanish nor English, but what is known as Low German.  These changes have made for some tremendous challenges in what these two districts need to do to successfully offer their students a quality education.

The economic conditions of the two districts have also changed. While both still have high levels of wealth per student, 2-3 times the state average, student bodies of the districts have grown increasingly poor. In the 2013-14 school year, Ulysses reported a free/reduced lunch rate of 62 percent. Hugoton’s was 59 percent. The state average is close to 50 percent.

In Ulysses,Superintendent Dave Younger, a 2013 LFT alum, led a tour of district facilities. It included viewing remodeling projects designed primarily to enhance student and staff security and visiting a new facility the district recently purchased that will make district maintenance and purchasing operations more efficient by bringing them together. He cited last year’s LFT visit to Salina as inspiration for the purchase.

In Hugoton, participants were given an extensive opportunity to learn about the district’s charter school, one of 11 operating in the state, from Superintendent Mark Crawford, another LFT alum. What sets the school apart from many other alternative schools across the state is HLA's focus on a very unique student population: undocumented students from Mexico that have accompanied their parents from Mennonite communities in northern Mexico. Although many of the students know some English, their parents generally only speak a German dialect. Perhaps even more difficult than overcoming the language barrier is these families bring a tradition where schooling usually ends before 16 for both boys and girls, and that simply doing the necessary work of running a farm or a household are generally the only educational expectations.

On top of the visits, KASB staff facilitated several spirited discussions. One was on the importance of identifying the district’s key outcomes and keeping the focus of district efforts on those outcomes. A second was on the role of evaluation in keeping instruction at a high level.

As with most other KASB events, food functions played a key role in building the networking that is an essential part of the LFT experience. The highlight was a bar-b-q in Ulysses in the backyard of board member Dave Otis Thursday night. Dave and his wife were ably aided by the Youngers and Roger Hilton, Ulysses assistant superintendent and LFT participant, and his wife. It may have been the chilliest July bar-b-q in southwest Kansas history as many of the folks were sporting sweatshirts and jackets! Not surprisingly, Mexican food was on the menu for a number of participants Wednesday night in Great Bend and Thursday for lunch in Ulysses.

Even though a number of them had a pretty good drive ahead of them, many participants mingled around after the conclusion of the program talking about the session, what they would take home with them and what to look forward to at the Sept. 10 and 11 session in Wichita.

Although the LFT participants saw southwest Kansas at the top of its game, the reliance of the Ogallala Aquifer to fuel the booming farming/livestock industry is always part of the picture. Read about long-term concerns for the aquifer here.

To learn about KASB’s Leadership for Tomorrow program, visit

Thursday, July 3, 2014

QFIC, Not Just Another Educational Acronym

QFIC, no it does not stand for the Quebec Forest Industry Council, I know that is what you all were thinking!  QFIC, or Quality, Fidelity, Intensity, Consistency is a mindset that we teach when working with districts on their leadership development and evaluation systems.  

Many of you are thinking, “why do we need another acronym to confuse us, and the people that we try to inspire, as we lead our buildings and districts.”  QFIC is a mindset that we have to develop and reinforce within our organization, and it starts with the leaders of that organization. This summer I have had some great opportunities to work with districts on developing the QFIC mindset as they reflect on the implementation of their “new” evaluation systems.  These districts are trying to ensure that they are getting the highest level of effectiveness with the evaluation systems they implemented this past year.  We have worked with them on improving the quality of the evaluation process, fidelity to the intended purposes of the evaluation system, intensity that they exhibit as they use the evaluation process, and consistency as they calibrate common levels of expectations within the system while doing the evaluation process.

The questions your administrative team needs to consider as you work to instill a QFIC mindset around evaluation include:

Are we asking the “right” questions when conducting the pre-evaluation and post observation conferences?  These questions are a critical piece of the evaluation process, and when done well bring quality, insights and reflection to the process that will drive improvement of instruction and leadership.  The evaluator should be developing questions prior to the conferences that force the evaluee to reflect on their professional practices, and make the link between their actions and results.  

Do all the users of your evaluation system “look for” and “see” the same things happening when conducting observations?  “Norming” your evaluation system is a practice that should be done at a minimum on an annual basis to ensure consistency of expectations and reduce variability across your system.

Do the professional goals established link back to the areas of need for the evaluee and support the overarching district goals?  As evaluator and evaluee sit down to craft their professional goals they should be focusing on areas that will translate to improved results in the classroom or across the school.  These goals should include measurable outcomes that if met assist the school with reaching their improvement goals.  The goals developed should also incorporate the language found within the evaluation instrument. References can then be made back to the instrument by the evaluee and evaluator so they can easily monitor growth towards the established goal.

Do the artifacts collected validate and support the level of practice by the professional?  As artifacts are collected, the evaluator and evaluee need to consider artifacts that best represent their professional abilities.  When it comes to artifacts, more is less! A system defining and deciding on quality artifacts will help the evaluee understand the expectations related to quality instructional and leadership practices.  Systems should be considering model artifacts that can be shared with evaluees so they can see and understand what quality professional practice looks like in their role.

These are a few of the questions that administrative teams should be considering as they strive to establish QFIC related to their evaluation system. Answers to the questions will continue to be important as evaluation expands over the next school year to include student growth measures. Fidelity and consistency will be very important as systems begin to analyze the data from their evaluation system to provide ongoing professional development and make personnel decisions.  QFIC is really all about culture. Systems that are working effectively and efficiently thrive on a culture of high expectations, peer support and a desire to continuously improve, in other words QFIC.

KASB leadership services staff has worked with some districts recently on these topics as they have made it through year one of implementing their new evaluation system, and are wanting to improve how evaluation is conducted in their system.  Give us a call and we would be glad to work with your team.