I am working with several schools on transforming the school structures, culture and instruction from a traditional model to a more modern version. Each of the schools has their own take on the outcomes that qualify it as more modern. PBL, personalization/student-centered and technology play a part in each of them. As each of these schools move toward change there are a variety of administrative supports and mandates that make the whole endeavor more dynamic.
If you are in a position to walk the path of transformation I would like to offer a few words of observation and possibly advice, that I have encountered as I do this work.
- Allow for breathing room – the people who are walking the path need support, but be careful not to micromanage. Once a plan is in place, check in on progress but leave some room for the project to breathe, get up to running speed, a watched pot never boils… evoke whatever analogy you want. This matters.
- Play the long game – when the change process begins there is often a push to change it all right now, flip the thing over, disrupt. I would caution that to do so often alienates your core team, leaves the changes at a superficial level, and does not lay the ground work for the core changes that you want to see cement themselves into your school ecosystem. Its easy to drop new machines in a building and much more complex to bring that technology in to serve the pedagogy powerfully. Being thoughtful in scaffolding the process will set up the pathways of success for the team in ways that cannot be manufactured in any other way.
- Pay attention to critical indicators – I often joke that if none of the students are doing the homework, it is not a problem with the students – it is a problem with the homework. Similarly, if a critical mass of the teachers in a transformation school are not on board, its time to evaluate that push back. It is important to listen to what the criticisms are and attend to the information. Ignoring it will only lead to massive staff turnover, year after year, which is a death knell to meaningful change. Change requires a school to reevaluate all its systems and structures. This is uncomfortable. Help people move through that space rather than ignore the issues.
- Celebrate successes – Celebrate often, celebrate loudly, celebrate in the classrooms/school/community. Invite the community in, send the teachers and students out to meet with the community. It is important for the greater community to see the work of the students and start to see the transformation not just as a school initiative, but as a community effort.
These are just a few thoughts on my first ‘real’ day back at work this year. Working at the school level to support the teachers and admin through the process is exciting and exhausting. The people that have chosen to walk this path have their heads down, working as hard as they can to do right by the kids in their charge. I am honored to be on the path with them. Here’s to all of you out there working to bring a more modern and meaningful version of school into the lives of kids, keep bringing it.
Sheila Spear said:
Diane, I am late discovering the work that you and others are doing, but the phrase “transforming the school structures, culture and instruction from a traditional model to a more modern version” just leapt out at me. I am long retired, but my heart still thrills when I see people working on this in today’s school culture, and I couldn’t resist taking the time to say you have my heartfelt best wishes for your work.
I was part of a statewide effort in Victoria, Australia in the 1970s (I know, that’s ancient history). Hard to believe, it was a collaborative effort involving the state department leadership (my boss, the state’s Director of Secondary Curriculum, was a Ph.D. from UW-Madison), teacher colleges, teacher unions, parent groups, school principals. And it involved state wide discussions in every high school community for a year to produce what were called “Principles of Education” around which to organize a re-organization of the ‘industrial’ model of schooling. You would find the principles very familiar. The reforms have long since gone, sadly, running into the success of the testing movement. I am delighted to see a renewed movement for school transformation of this kind. Well done, wonderful work, and truly inspiring!
Thank you for the enthusiasm and kind words for the work, it is hard work, but the work worth doing. I was fortunate to be able to visit Australia on two occasions and was impressed with the work that was done to build the school systems and structures throughout the country. I also had a very frank discussion with a room full of leaders in Brisbane about the coming testing movement in all its lackluster glory. There are a number of groups gathering in the US to do things differently and would love to get to a place where we were working to produce something like the Principles of Education… I’ll make sure to investigate your work further. Thank you for all you did for kids and teachers… so much to learn from past efforts.