As an education leader, I recognize I am strengthened by the folks I choose to surround myself with. One of the folks that supports me as a person, friend, and colleague is the fabulous Assistant Principal of #SiglerNation, Mrs. Carrie Tracy. Below is the first of what I hope is many more collaborative posts.
The month of October is here and that means two things; #IMMOOC is back and the campus improvement plan for Sigler Elementary is due soon. As the deadline draws near we find ourselves struggling to articulate the exact steps we will take as a staff to improve. It is not because we do not know what we need, rather we find the system of school improvement focused around a bottom line that is dictated by state testing and the improvement of a score. We are not naive. We get it. Ultimately the bottom line is what drives public school systems. We may not like it. We may not agree with it, but we better find a way to make it work for us, our staff and the students of #SiglerNation.
My first experience with a Site Based Improvement Committee was as an assistant principal seventeen years ago. Back in the day it was called a Local School Council but the makeup of the committee and my perception toward it had not changed. Schools search high & low asking people to serve on the committee (we are still looking for two more parents to serve…you interested?). Administrators try to create time to analyze multiple surveys/assessments & craft goals aligned with the data while simultaneously doing school day in and day out. Teachers are asked to serve on a committee after already giving an inordinate amount of hours towards instruction(thank you to all who said yes). In my experience, what should have been a meaningful exchange between schools and the community ends up becoming a task to check off the list.
Recently during a conversation with a Ashley Helms, a colleague of mine, I shared some of my thoughts with the campus improvement process and our up coming Site Based Improvement Committee (SBIC) Meeting. Ashley made one simple statement that changed my mindset and my approach to the improvement process. She said, “At #SiglerNation the “I” stands for Innovation.”
When Matt “voxered” me his conversation with Ashley….my initial internal response was, “How can we possibly make an SBIC committee innovative? Does he remember the meeting is in 5 days and we are still writing out our plan?” My response to Matt was, of course, much more optimistic! Having only worked with him a year, I already know once an idea gets percolating in his mind, we are moving forward full steam ahead….
Ashley’s statement stopped me dead in my tracks. It was a complete ah-ha moment. Our SBIC members are really members of our Site Based Innovation Committee. Simply saying it out loud and seeing it in writing infuses energy into wanting to make meaningful change we can all believe in. Replacing the word “improvement” with “innovation” reminds me of the following question George challenges us to understand, “How do we start to innovate inside the box?” If improvement plans are going to be required, how do we make them work for us? How do we find new and better ways to articulate our change within the confines of our requirements?
“A way of thinking that creates something new and better”
George uses this to definition to define innovation. If you think of this in terms of school improvement, it’s what we are seeking, right? We want to create new and better ways for educators to plan, collaborate, intervene and reflect on student learning. Sometimes the word, innovation, intimidates me. I think about what something looks like at it’s very best and most perfect state and I want to time travel to that space immediately. But, maybe sometimes innovation is the process of making something new and better. How can we innovate within the scope of our improvement plan to create something new and better? This question has stuck with me as I aim to complete ours and host our first meeting of the year later this week.
Updated Following our 1st SBIC Meeting…
For our first upcoming meeting we made some small changes in that direction.
All good thinking happens at Starbucks right? Matt and I created time on a Sunday afternoon where we could fully focus on the task at hand instead of carving out 10 minutes here and there within the school day. It allowed time for him to fully guide me through the process as it has changed substantially since I last wrote a plan in my past admin life. It also allowed us time to talk through what we were envisioning for the campus over the next couple of years.
Guess what? We didn’t print out the plan. We shared it ahead of time and asked everyone to bring their own devices. We also had computers available but in full disclosure, I wasn’t able to figure out how to download the plan to the Chromebooks without staying logged in…sooo need to work through that little kink or have a few copies printed out. I also would like to utilize the “comments” option within google docs to allow for an elevated level of participation.
We asked for 1 teacher, 1 parent, 1 parent/community member, 1 campus/district professional to sit together to ensure we had a diverse group at each table. We had some “getting to know you questions” at each table to help break the ice as each shared an elementary school memory. Each group was asked to read through a specific goal which they would then share out to the larger group. My hope was the smaller groups would allow for more dialogue and investment in the action plan.
As I reflect on our first meeting, I feel good about making those small steps. In the past, we would have had teachers take turns sharing out components of the plan to the large group while stakeholders sat quietly listening but not engaging. It was nice to look around the room and see community members asking questions and parents sharing their perspective based on their own experiences. There was a level of intimacy and energy in the room that I had not observed in past meetings.
As I think about our next meeting where we share how we are progressing on our goals, I have visions of taking the committee on a tour of the campus where they can experience some of the action steps we are working on or maybe having students come to the committee and share what the action steps look like from their perspective.
This experience has taught me to never accept the status quo and assume there is no better way. We must always push for innovation and sometimes that may be in small steps. Matt & I work at very different speeds but I’m thankful for it. I tend to have lots of ideas in my head but freeze at the action step in fear that it will fail or – if I’m completely honest – will be a lot of hard work. Matt pushes me to take ideas and give them life.
We do not have all the answers yet. As we work through this school year with our plan to
improve innovate, We know if we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got and “ain’t nobody got time for that”.