Friday, March 23, 2012

Journey to Baldrige

Life's a Journey

Are you currently on a journey? Most likely you answered yes and your mind is now racing thinking about your journey... is it a professional journey? or is it a personal journey? or perhaps it is both? I offer that is is most certainly both because it is impossible to separate ourselves into entirely separate people. Try as we may, the person that we are is the person who shows up to the job and to our family dinner table. Sure, we have all attempted to downplay some aspect of our social self at a new job, but eventually, that characteristic emerges. Perhaps you want everyone around the office or in your classroom - since many of you are educators, to think that you are very organized. After all everyone would agree that you would rather be described as organized than unorganized. But the truth may be that you really aren't overly organized. It isn't because you are lazy or absent minded, it is simply that you have better things to do than organize everything into neat little files. If I sound pretty convincing with this one it is because I am sharing a personal struggle that I go through. I once tried very hard to compensate for the way my brain works, but in the end I needed to embrace that I like to work on multiple things at the same time- I do not care if I have a pile of books regarding Brain-based research on one side of my desk and on the other is a stack of purchase orders awaiting my review. I am not overly concerned with every detail especially during the brainstorming phase - I want to see the big picture first. We all have our way of doing things based on many factors including our learning styles, personality types, values, genetics, and yes, even our age.

In the end, I suggest that it is the quality of work rather than the process in which we complete it. For me, I enjoy following my thoughts in whatever direction they take me in order to remain creative. I like to work with people who are similar to me. The truth is, my wife knows all to well what some of my "work family" are dealing with if they are like her. To people similar to her, I may seem all over the place at times, or I may change direction midstream when an idea strikes me as brilliant, I sometimes start another project before I finish the first one. She would also add, I leave my shoes wherever they come off and say things like, "just give me a few more minutes I know I put that gift card in here somewhere so I wouldn't lose it" making us late for our reservations. The truth is, the overly-organized people are not a walk in the park either. With their high sequential brain patterns and need to know the directions before starting something, that's just crazy. I say get started and we can figure it out as we go.

Why is all of this relevant to the topic of this post? You must be one of those sequential people - I'm getting to it. You see the truth is, this is only one piece of what makes each of us unique. Our learning patterns, personality types, our core values all influence our behavior in the work place. Not to mention the generational differences that exist between the "Baby-boomers" and "Gen Y's". All of this defines our norms, expectations, and beliefs in the workplace as well as home. For example, imagine if you will a meeting around a conference room - there are a wide range of employees from various generations - one is constantly checking his 'smart phone', responding to emails, texts, and his Twitter Feed - while the other is copiously taking handwritten notes into a journal. The first is unaware that his/her behavior is completely offensive to the other. While the first can't understand why anyone would even bother using a pen or journal when you can simply use your Ipad 'TodayNotes' AP to capture the entire meeting. Who is right? Before you answer, reflect on the characteristics already mentioned. What generation are you? How do you like to learn? What are your values? The answer is neither person is right or wrong... I revert back to the statement about the quality of outcomes they produce individually and as a team. Who you would side with here depends deeply on your individual characteristics. Regardless, both of these people might need to learn to work together in order to produce an outcome for their boss. Learning to identify each other's qualities and characteristics is the first step in creating a productive team.

The Millville Public School District is on a journey to reach the District Vision "to create a world class district involving all stakeholders where every child can learn". I am on a quest of my own... I am on a personal journey to make a significant difference in the lives of as many students (and people) as I can before my literal journey on Earth ends as well as to continue my journey as a mixed-martial-arts student. I can't separate these awesome adventures because they overlap in countless ways.

I began my tour as the superintendent of the Millville School District in July 2010. Let's use that as the jumping off point to outline the district adventure traveling to our future Baldrige Nomination and Award. If you haven't heard of Baldrige please do not worry, prior to 2009 I had never heard of it either. Additionally, I did not know what Six Sigma was and could not tell you a thing about Systems Thinking or Quality Control as it relates to education. In 2009, however, just at the tale end of my doctoral studies, I was exposed to the PEG people. PEG stands for the Performance Excellence Group and the people are Ken, Joe, and Fred. This is not a big money making consulting firm interested in providing expensive leadership training to as many people as possible but rather the brain child of Ken Biddle and his two assistants Joe and Fred who want to change education in a meaningful way. I can testify that the size of the company is not an indication of the size impact they can have. I signed on for a year long leadership PEG Academy that taught me how to use a Systems Approach as a school leader in order to have a powerful impact on the quality of education our schools produces. more data! Not the kind I was accustomed to using in the QAAR Report, NJASK or HSPA outcomes over a five year trend - but something much different. Concepts like Smart Goals, Feasibility Matrices, Root Cause Analysis, In-Progress Metrics, Affinity Charts, Value Stream Mapping and Process Flow Charting, Pareto Charts... I could keep going but if you are like me before PEG most of these concepts were like a foreign language to me.

In my new leadership position in Millville, I was committed to applying my new knowledge of Systems Thinking to make a real impact for the kids, parents, and staff of my community. I began with the core MVVG or mission, vision, values, and goals of the organization. We set out to define together what the MVVG are for our district. We participated in powerful leadership retreats including the board of education members to ensure we were all vested in becoming a world class school district. Once we established the MVVG we changed the way the leadership team conducted business. We used in-progress metrics to increase accountability toward the district's strategic set of goals and spent our time together 'speaking to the data' and the rest of the time out in the classrooms where we belong. The phrase 'speaking to the data' describes the powerful philosophy embraced by the district leaders. If you don't have data to support your claim - your claim is discarded and you are asked to 'speak to the data'. If you don't like it, go get some data! We strongly support risk taking, creativity, the use of technology in the classroom. My previous post outlines my belief in turning students' "Switches" on. While embracing these classroom practices we are also maintaining our focus on the core MVVG. The team embraces the idea of 'what you expect, you must inspect'.
We defined our vision in a catch phrase 'to be world class', our operational values are summarized by 'CoAcH' or Competence, Accountability, and Honesty, our mission to accomplish the 5 district goals  outlined in the strategic action plan to achieve our vision in - Personnel, Facilities, Technology, Culture, and Rigor (Student Achievement). The district embraced Robert Marzano's Classroom Instruction that Works to shape our classroom instructional model and we are using McRel's Classroom Walkthrough Technology to account for our progress in improving instruction and ultimately the classroom environment. District leaders dating back to the Summer of 2010 were trained in McRel/CITW. Next, we spent a year in the classrooms often establishing inter-rater reliability, consistency from our administrators guaranteeing that each and every instructional staff member receives a minimum of 30 walkthroughs from September to June 1st (McRel's research says 30 is the number that will provide for reliable walkthrough data) and establishing our district baseline.

Next, we created a Summer Teacher-Leader Trek Experience to partner with our greatest resource - the teachers. We learned a significant lesson during that first year which was while we did a good job training our administrators in CITW and McRel, we failed to systematically include the instructional staff in that training. The result left our teachers perplexed and left to guess what the various 'visitors' to their classrooms were actually looking for. I was told that the visits were nicknamed "Drive-by's" by the staff. Across the district each principal did his/her own version of professional development in CITW during that first year.

Going into the second year we were determined to do things differently. In preparing for our Summer Trek Experience we invited 10 teachers from each of our eleven schools to join the district leaders in meaningful professional development on CITW and the use of McRel. The teams from each school agreed that they would be responsible for providing their colleagues with 'Turn-Key Training' at the start of the new school year. September through December 2011 would include the first phase of district training. This meant that each school would spend each month focused on the same instructional strategies in the Professional Learning Communities discussing their instructional practice. The summer trek teachers served as the trainers of the sessions providing examples of best practice application for each of the classroom instructional strategies. Prior to each training session, the participants completed a short pre-assessment and following a post-assessment to assist in determining the effectiveness of the sessions. This data as well as the classroom walkthrough data allowed us to monitor our improvement efforts. All of this was done to help the staff members coach each other to improve their instructional practice. It was never to be uses as evaluative!

Where we are currently: we are on track for every instructional staff member to have 30 walkthroughs by June 1, 2012. The teachers' Professional Learning Communities are simply amazing. The staff is engaged in rich dialogue about their profession. What about the data? All indicators suggest there has been a great deal of improvement in raising classroom rigor (keeping the Switch On) throughout the district. We have collected countless artifacts of our journey as we prepare to share our story with others. Our future plans include submitting our application for a Baldrige site visit. The four other district goals are trending their target and are on track to produce exceptional results thanks to the hard work of all of the various staff members in Millville who believe in our vision to become world class.

For information on Baldrige visit
For information on McRel visit
For information on PEG email

Reflecting back to the beginning of our journey together in this blog post, I want to strongly encourage you to engage in meaningful discussions with your colleagues in order to identify:

personality types (Golden Personality Inventory), your personal and operational values, your learning styles (Howard Gardner's MII) visit , and generational differences in the workplace

Must have books:
Lean Six Sigma Pocket Toolbook by George, Rowlands, Price & Maxey
The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner 

Enjoy the many journeys you are on, live life to the fullest and read to your children!