I recently facilitated, virtually, a high school leadership team that was exploring their goals at the start of a new year. Before the meeting, they had sent me information that their focus points for the year were:
- establishing relationships with students,
- creating meaningful and challenging lessons, and
- making connections with students.
They stated that their goals for the year were:
- to improve students’ academic performance, and
- make learning meaningful and purposeful.
My plan was to have the team agree upon hypotheses that would drive the formation of the leadership team’s actions.
Jean Ross, in Why Hypotheses Beat Goals suggested that instead of asking, what is your goal? We should be asking, what is your hypothesis? By forming a hypothesis, we articulate in advance, why we believe a given course of action will lead to the success that we seek.
I took the information that the school had shared with me and formed two hypotheses to offer to the team for their discussion, reframing, and rewording if necessary.
Teachers building strong student relationships increases students being known and knowing that they are known. This creates students’ willingness to be vulnerable in setting goals and working to achieve them.
This proposed hypothesis was discussed, and personal examples were shared by members of the team. Individually and collectively, they agreed with the hypothesis as it was stated.
Teachers using knowledge about individual students to guide the selection of challenging learning tasks would increase students’ investments in learning, producing improved academic performance.
Again, team conversation reinforced agreement around this hypothesis.
These hypotheses can now be shared and explored with the staff, uncovering the degree of agreement that exists around the validity of the statements. The hypotheses being made public creates a form of transparency. The staff can now be looking for the leadership team to have continuous alignment between the hypotheses and their leadership behaviors.
With agreement on these hypotheses, the team now explored actions that the leadership team would take. Regarding building relationships, we examined:
- What is already in place to encourage and support teachers in how they begin this year with a focus on student relationships?
- What expectations does the team have for teachers?
- How should leaders communicate those expectations?
The team began exploring the support that the staff would need to take action on building student relationships virtually. Each leader was able to identify some teachers who have historically excelled at relationship building and discussed how these “expert relationship builders” could become a resource for other members of the staff. They examined a recommendation from CASEL about using a five-minute chat with students held early in the year to increase teachers’ knowledge about students, especially uncovering what students’ experiences had been in the pandemic. In this community, COVID-19 had a severe impact on many and therefore a negative impact on many students. The possibility emerged that the administrators might use a similar model of the five- minute chat with teachers within their departments.
They began by identifying where challenging, personalized learning tasks had been present for students both before Covid-19 and during the quarantine and where these personalized challenging tasks had historically been missing. To identify expectations, these leaders discussed what challenging personalized learning might look like during virtual learning and what possibilities would exist as the district moves from virtual to a hybrid model and eventually to all students back at the school.
As the team reached consensus on the hypotheses behind their goals and the pictures of what implementation would sound like and look like, they were ready to focus on their needed leadership actions. Each member of the team was asked to bring their responses to the following questions to the next leadership team meeting:
- What are the most important leadership behaviors for us to be implementing in the coming weeks, individually and collectively?
- What should our leadership focus be during the time that the district is working in a virtual model?
- What expectations should we have of each other?
- What commitments are we prepared to make to each other?
Consider how your leadership team might gain from formalizing and sharing two or three hypotheses that are driving your team’s actions and decisions. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to discuss your team’s hypotheses. Often, someone listening to your explanation can assist in clarifying the message. I’d be happy to listen and to help facilitate your thinking.
Photo by Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action