Posts Tagged strategy

Granularity

While deeply involved in Marzanno and Waters (2009), I had the opportunity recently to attend a recent high school orchestra concert. It is, thus, logical to reflect on instructional leadership as similar to the experience of developing a musical harmony that mingles concepts from Marzanno and others such that we have a cohesive, but responsive approach to student achievement. While many would assume that a musical composition is static in nature, it is in fact a highly dynamic endeavor that yields different results when factors of acoustics, instruments, expertise, and the emotions behind the score spread and mix upon the stage. In this most recent concert, graduating seniors and year-end farewells set the stage for an once-in-a-lifetime version of a particularly complicated flute solo that was masterfully presented as a farewell tribute to the conductor and teacher.  Much like an orchestral piece of music, the notes and staff only told a very course version of the story behind the music. The instrumental process that yields note dynamics, breath control, posture, precision (or lack thereof), and a weaving of expertise results in a performance – an experience.

In much the same way, our current approach to achievement is more about looking at the music rather than reflecting on the elements of the performance. This emerges from an issue of granularity. When we look at a large boulder, we see the surface and get general information regarding the face of the boulder and maybe some insight into the color, texture, and weight of the object. Summative testing is akin to this global view where we derive scores and assess program by examining the accomplishment of large groups of students. What we don’t see, and teachers often reflect on this, is the material just below the surface. If we begin by breaking the boulder into smaller and smaller pieces, we reveal the details of the musical composition – the subtleties, the nuances, the complexity.  Ultimately, when we arrive at grains of sand, we have a very complete picture of the boulder – even though it is a boulder no longer.

Formative testing is largely about breaking the boulder of education into grains of accomplishment and by looking with this level of scrutiny, we greatly improve our chance of impacting performance in a positive way. The key is achieving a high degree of granularity while not distracting from our primary task of achieving broad spectrum learning goals. Formative assessment meets this criterion and provides an instructional strategy that not only focuses teachers on viable instructional objectives, but also informs both students and teachers about their progress toward accomplishing the same.  The musical score transcends the subtleties of the dynamic factors of performance by forming the foundation of the presentation. In this way, we have a metaphor for the core structures that Marzano and Waters (2009) propose in the form of nonnegotiable goals. Their reflections on the inadequacy of NCLB and other summative high stakes measures gives way to a formative system of measures aimed at developing a “value added” approach. This is consistent with multiple recent research endeavors including Hatie’s (2009), where formative feedback to teachers regarding their efforts with students yielded the 3rd highest effect rating on overall achievement – approximately d=0.90.

The challenge is not about curriculum, while it is valuable to continue curricular development processes as we currently do. The issue is the creation of common formative assessments that match the curriculum and provide for close scrutiny of granular accomplishment. With Marzano and Waters (2009), we find a proposal for a “value added” approach to education that calls for both horizontal and vertical alignment with a common scale of measurement for formative assessment tools used along the way. Arranged according to topic areas and grade levels, this proposal leads to a comprehensive look at how a curriculum should emerge in the classroom, the way in which we test pre-operationally for its introduction, and the way in which we report developmental progress along a scale toward achievement of that curriculum.

But they may not be going quite far enough in addressing the thousands of small bits that constitute a comprehensive child-centered approach to personal development that also addresses the development of character and emotional intelligence.  Education continues to stare at the boulder and misses this aspect under the surface.  A value added approach may also miss many of the grains of sand by sifting and looking only for the specs of interest.

If we really want to form sand castles, we need to address how all of the sand can be cemented together into the complex structure that is a whole “person.”  While I value assessment as important, it does little to address the complex nature of a child and the nuances of how the the score becomes a performance.


References

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.

Marzano, R. J., & Waters, T. (2009). District leadership that works: Striking the right balance. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.

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Instructional Core

Richard Elmore, in this video clip and with the associated graphic, defines the best measure of how we should judge innovation and change in an organization.  The data that we collect must come from the core if we are to determine with any degree of certainty that these changes have been implemented and whether or not they are sustainable.

High stakes testing does not accomplish this.  Many have now written about test scores and continue to miss the point.  The scores do not inform instruction and lack the “granularity” needed to affect real change.  Teachers do not change based on either initiative nor incentive based reward.  They change, in Daniel Pink’s words, because they want to master their craft, because they have always been an autonomous lot, and because they have a special purpose that stands them apart from other professions – nurturing the progeny of others.  The talents that will change schools are those with unyielding drive that infects these other dimensions powerfully and without hesitation, as in Geoffrey Canada’s work in Harlem.  These efforts will often come from the teachers themselves when they are effectively empowered to be leaders in their own organizations.

But, ultimately, systemic change will only happen when we keep our “eye on the ball” and that means the instructional core.

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Anatomy of trust…

This has been a busy week in University Place. Two events have shaken this community in recent days and both times I found myself on television as a bystander while events unfolded. The first was a city council meeting where parents and students showed up in large numbers after being convinced that the youth sports program of the city was about to be decimated by revenue shortfalls and looming budget cuts.  While it was accurate that the shortfalls will likely mean 25% budget cuts across the board, the cutting of youth sports was not yet in the proposal loop.  The political nature of the method used to bring this issue up on the eve of the election was called into question and the final result:  two long time council members ousted from their positions and lots of angry residents that no longer trust the council or the city staff.  I feel bad for Debbie Klosowski who takes over as Mayor in December.  She has a significant amount of repair work to do.

In the following video, look for me on the right side in the first wide angle shot of the audience.  My brother Jim behind me and to my right.  I’m sitting next to school board member and long time friend, Mary Lu Dickinson.

The second was an incident at my son’s middle school that involved an impostor who pretended to be a military veteran and spent three hours on campus before it was discovered that he actually posed a threat to student safety.

At the board meeting the following night, concerned parents expressed their frustration over the incident.  The news crew from KING TV were there again with camera at the ready.  Nobody wanted to relive the issue again, but that seems unavoidable for the near future as new information continues to come to light.  Since this person was on campus for over three hours, it’s likely they will never have all the details of what was said and to whom.

What this incident does remind us of is the daily challenges we face in maintaining trust after we’ve earned it.  In both cases, the people most affected — city council and school administration — had earned trust and respect from years of dedicated accomplishment.  Events like this can bring all of that crashing down around you in a few short minutes of either best intentions gone awry or inadvertent complacency.  Nobody deserves the lost trust that emerged from both these incidents, but that is the price being paid – at least for the moment.

One conversation I had with a teacher today reminded me of how difficult change is for all of us.  Unfettered by accountability or rigorous reinforcement, we typically return to old habits rather than sustaining institutional change.  In many ways, both incidents are the result of this aspect of both leadership and followership.  For the council, 15 years of spending growth to keep pace with city development kept them from seeing the financial downturn on the horizon.  As a result, 4 million in reserve disappeared literally overnight with little planning in place to address this shortfall.  For the school district, leading edge procedures and policies were decayed by a close knit community built on an open door policy that is decades old.  In a community like this, visitor badges and staff ID seemed unnecessary and even cumbersome.  How to change minds and sensibilities?

Kotter and Cohen (2002) bring us the best framework for institutionalizing change.  8 steps that seek not only change, but sustainability — and that’s really what’s at stake here.

Kotter, J. P., & Cohen, D. S. (2002). The heart of change: Real-life stories of how people change their organizations. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. 

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Early Learning – Fighting Fade Out

One of the things on every educational leaders “to-do” list should be addressing early learning.  Similar to what Jeffrey Canada has taught us in the Harlem projects (see previous post), this project in South Shore School District is addressing this challenge.  Consistent with this is a need to look at Birth to 3 programs that address the community and daycare component in addressing the key to the future of education – a comprehensive plan for kids from womb to 3rd Grade.  This is all fully researched and connected to the latest work on brain research. Leaders must address this challenge as critical to sustainable change that has not yet been achieved.

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In reflection on Jeffrey Canada…

After discussing the Harlem Children’s Zone…

What would you rather have, a blanket of mediocrity, or a quilt of excellence?

This American Life Podcast – Interview of Jeffrey Canada

Baby College – where it really starts.

Bringing the best of understanding childhood to the parents of Harlem.

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Team Leadership

dysfunctionLencioni (2002) paints a wonderful picture of the development of teams that captures a valid representation of team renewal that also serves as a reflection on the key components of ongoing team development.

At the foundation and consistent with my own beliefs is the critical need for trust at the base of a team’s pyramid.  But, as Lencioni points out, these layers of concerns must be seen as interrelated in order to get at the core of team development.  Trust, by itself, is insufficient for achieving the kind of team dynamics that result in accomplishment beyond expectations, which serves as the definition of a high functioning team.

The purpose of this blog entry is not to recount all aspects of this model of team assessment.  In my own recent experience I have been involved in two ways with teams that provide diametrically opposite examples of teams at their best and worst.

As a member of a larger logistical team, I have been both frustrated and frustrating because of an absence of the foundational trust aspect that is required for team development.  While I value that I have a role to play in this team’s success or lack thereof, it seems outside my power and control to initiate actions aimed at resolving deficiencies at multiple layers of the pyramid.  At the core, this team has little trust due to a top-down management style that is inherently paranoid.  With many demonstrations of a sincere lack of trust, it is clear that what follows is a general fear of conflict and a generative focus on individual well-being.  Thus, few members of the team have the ability to commit to the team and half of the team has tendered their resignation.  This act of exasperation is the ultimate demonstration of avoidance and, by virtue of this, despite commitments to the contrary, there is no clear indication that results are in anyone’s conscious focus.

Interestingly, however, I also serve as a leader on a more local team that is one step removed from the higher leadership team.  Similar to Lencioni’s example, this departmental team is functioning well within its own context.  As a leader of this team, trust was a critical component of our initial stages of development.  As noted in another text, Katzenbach & Smith (1993) define a leadership style that is effective at addressing the team strategies denoted by Lencioni.  Development of trust is often associated with a leadership attitude that inspires team members.  Leaders must often be seen as vulnerable in order to illicit contributions from other members that develop out of concern for the well-being of the team and organization — and each other.  Thus, this focus satisfies three areas of the triangle – trust, commitment, and results.  Accountability and conflict emerge in the processes once team members are engaged.  Thus, we get a self-perpetuating cycle of commitment and accountability.

As Katzenbach & Smith point out, each team is unique in defining the skills needed to lead.  While in one instance, a leadership style applied as highly management oriented fails, in another example, honest servant leadership leads to distinct gains.  This should not be used as an argument for a more lenient leadership style.  Quite the contrary, this is just a cautionary tale that reinforces the fact that each team of experience needs to be uniquely addressed as to its respective strengths and weaknesses.  The dynamics of team development continue to emerge as unique and interesting in the realm of leadership research.

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