I found this diagram in a white paper from NWEA, titled From Survive to Thrive: Why partnership is an Essential for School Improvement.
Citing a research study from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, it identifies the effects of improvement for schools engaged in School Improvement Grants (SIGs). They found student math scores in grades 3–8 returning to pre-implementation levels within three years of the completion of the program. The white paper lists these concerns that need to be considered:
- The current system incentivizes quick wins and short-term solutions.
- We add more and more programs without focusing on implementation.
- We overlook the role of school leaders.
- Too many leaders go it alone.
- Too often, the onus for school improvement is placed only at the school level.
- We rely too heavily on student outcome data.
Several of these statements, especially the last one of relying too heavily on student outcome data really rang true to me from my work with almost any goal-setting activity, from student goal setting to teachers’ professional growth plans, to a school leadership team’s improvement plan.
“….when student data is the sole catalyst and the primary input for driving improvement efforts, an outsized piece of the puzzle is missing. Under the old adage “what gets measured gets managed,” having reliable, measurable insights into the structures and processes of schools and systems, as well as the behavior and relational dynamics of the adults in those systems, helps appropriately focus improvement efforts at the school and system level. Student outcome data shows us the end result. Data on how schools function helps uncover the root causes of school performance. This is where the adults in the systems have the most agency and ability to drive change—by listening to students as well as each other—to create stronger, more supportive schools that empower all community members to thrive, especially students.” (NWEA)
Early on in my consulting career with schools, I uncovered that waiting to measure student learning data provided insufficient “learning insights” for the educators. Waiting for student data has too much time pass between implementation and the gathering of feedback that can influence educator learning and practice.
Working with school leadership teams planning and implementing improvement efforts guided my thinking which led to my design of a backwards planning model.
Planning from the top down we identify:
#1 – Desired outcomes in student learning and achievement. (Success Indicators)
#2 – Needed student learning production behaviors. (What will students do or experience that will produce the learning outcome?)
#3 – Teacher or instructional actions (What instructional practices will generate the needed student learning behaviors?
#4 – Supports to guide teachers’ implementation of instructional practices. (Professional development, PLC collegial dialogue, coaching)
I describe that when planning for improved student learning, the administrator behaviors come last.
When implementing the plan, the administrator behaviors are first. Evidence (data) should be gathered along the way, tracking the progress of the plan.
First checkpoint – Were the necessary leadership actions taken to set the stage? Was staff provided a clear understanding of “why” and “what” changes were being implemented? Were professional learning opportunities, collegial conversations around implementation (PLCs) and coaching feedback provided as teachers began implementation? Were opportunities for teachers to share initial experiences and questions encouraged?
Second checkpoint – Is there evidence that the desired changes in instructional practice are occurring? Initially, the implementation may be awkward or ineffective but that is a sign of progress. If change is not observable or implementation appears stalled, it’s back to the first step identifying leadership supports.
Third checkpoint – Are the changes in student learning production behaviors observable? This is a precursor to gaining the student achievement outcomes. It’s important that teachers, know the student behaviors that the new program, curriculum, or instructional practice are targeting.
The teacher should have an understanding of what to look and listen for that indicates student change in learning behaviors that will generate the learning outcomes. What percent of students are changing learning practices? Are modifications in teacher actions needed for some students?
Suggestion: If modeling new practices for teachers, be sure to have the teacher focus on observing the student’s learning behaviors during the modelling. Then focus on how the teacher practice impacts students learning actions.
Changes in student learning behaviors provide reinforcement and encouragement to the teacher to continue the teacher practice. If the changes in student behavior are not observable, it requires backing up to re-examine necessary teacher (instructional) changes.
4th checkpoint – Now we are looking for indicators of student learning outcomes…. signs of students’ increased learning.
When we can’t find these indicators, it drives our reflection and exploration back through the earlier checkpoints.
Lasting impact on increased student learning requires educator learning. It’s why my favorite PLC question is, “What do the kids need us to learn?”