I recently read Dr. Spike Cook’s post on his “Conversation with Ceri Dean.” Dr. Cook's Insights...
This was an excellent post, and truly captured the perspective of one of the schools involved with the District's CITW / ASCD Film Project.
The experience marks a monumental milestone in our Journey to High Achieving Schools and to accomplishing our District Vision to be a World Class district involving all stakeholders where every child can learn. In reading the post, I couldn't help but harken back to where this started for MPS. Upon my arrival as superintendent in MPS in July 2010, the Board of Education and I began the quest to revive a previous Strategic Plan that stalled. It was of critical importance to me that the board members owned their role in the strategic planning process. As the highest level of district accountability, they must shape our Mission, Vision, Values, and overall Goals. Which is exactly what happened to spark the current strategic voyage.
Utilizing "Systems Thinking" I helped the board determine five high level goals. Simply they are: To be world class with Facilities, Culture, Information Technology, Human Resources, and Student Achievement. From there, the district's central administrative cabinet embarked on creating the action plans to ensure our success and also operationally define what it means to be ‘world class’. The in-process metrics are used to monitor our progress and serve as quality controls. Each metric was [and is] closely watched. Each cabinet leader fully owned [& owns] their goal and action plan in order to embrace accountability.
To highlight the process, I would like to share one of the student achievement metrics. The CITW Data captured through the McREL Power-walkthrough tool was closely monitored. Dr. Pamm Moore, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, owned the student achievement goal and the McREL Data. During the cabinet's weekly Monday morning "pre-game" meeting, each leader reported out on their progress. Using simple constructs, such as a Delta symbol to represent a change to the action plan, our meetings were concise. If a Delta was used it included specific "work around" information to signify what was being changed, why it was being changed, and more importantly what was being done to ensure continued progress - no excuses.
Absent a Delta, each cabinet leader used a quad chart to present their data – and progress. Each chart was reviewed using simple questions:
1. What does the chart say?
2. What does the data say?
3. Are we trending the target?
4. No, then what are we doing about it? Yes, then what are the next steps?
Classroom Instruction that Works (and now second edition) became the MPS’s adopted instructional model - simply because it is a framework that includes research based strategies that have been fully vetted by researches and classroom teachers alike. I particularly like it because it is not overly prescriptive which affords our teachers the autonomy to use the strategies strategically to include their personal styles and beliefs. This type of autonomy referred to as defined autonomy gives the classroom teacher a framework with which to work in – similar to the lines of a coloring book – but allows the teacher to select the colors and brush of their choosing. Dr. Moore monitored several targets within the data – ie- number of walkthrough visits, Blooms Taxonomy levels and other instructional strategies proven to increase student understanding and achievement.
Over the course of two years, MPS collected data from nearly 35,000 classroom walkthrough visits. In the first year, the baseline was captured to simply identify the ‘as is’ conditions – and from there we begin determining the ‘Gap’ or desired performance. Initially, it was of critical importance to simply get every administrator pointed to the same coordinates on the map. This is where we began to develop a common language, a common set of goals and values…it was at this point that everyone [administrators] was given a ticket to board the train.
In the following year, key targets were set on Dr. Moore’s action plan such as number of walkthroughs to be completed by each administrator weekly/monthly in order to ensure that every single teacher in the district has had 30 classroom visits by June 1st. Why 30? Great question, the McREL researchers determined that number as the level where the data is reliable and valid. In the first year, we allowed each administrator to complete the number of walkthroughs by happenchance. We realized quickly that by doing so some of our teachers had 50 walkthrough visits and others only 5. A variety of reasons might have contributed to this phenomenon, such as the location of the classroom or the content area, regardless of the reason we were determined for greater consistency.
We also learned at this point that not everyone was using his or her train ticket wisely. Monthly administrative council meetings included every principal and supervisor presenting their ‘quad chart’ to capture their progress towards the goal – the metric highlighted the individual walkthroughs completed for the month (and year to date) by each member. Imagine short, concise reports by each member that quickly told your colleagues if you did what you [and we collectively] said you were going to do. Imagine being an administrator who did not hit the target standing in front of all of your colleagues – and the superintendent. It was at this point where one needed to make the decision to fully invest and commit to our Journey or be held accountable for not doing so.
MPS used the baseline data from the McREL Walk-throughs to determine what areas of professional development our teachers needed [within the CITW framework]. This work was done in Summer Trek 2011, a year after the board set the initial strategic vision. Summer Trek is the MPS’s annual summer planning experience where teams of up to 10 teaching staff members from each school coupled with their administrative team spend three days together working towards the goals of the district. Prior to my arrival, the summer trek teams did not work on a common vision or strategic plan. Each building deployed a wide variety of initiatives and /or programs [often pilot programs] in an attempt to improve student achievement results. My reasons for abandoning that model included the fact that district resources were spread extremely thin – we were overloading the staff with countless mandatory programs or initiatives all designed to be the ‘silver bullet’, and even when there was a bright spot or pocket of success it was impossible to determine which program(s) was responsible for the performance.
We embraced a less is more attitude and stripped back all initiatives that could not be proven successful with empirical evidence. We focused on keeping only the best and leveraging the few that we know make a difference. We also embraced the motto that initiatives and programs don’t make a difference – the right people do. This is where CITW becomes so important as it is not a program but rather a common set of strategies, languages, and beliefs around what works instructionally in the classroom. Our Summer Trek Leaders 2011 created a shared professional development plan that included a monthly common calendar of professional development sessions [turn-key training by teachers for teachers] that every school in the district would follow. They established a pre-post assessment to determine the effectiveness of the professional development training and we tracked the progress by monitoring the results of the assessments as well as the McRel Power-walkthrough data.
MPS continued monitoring our progress from September 2011 through June 2012 with regard to embracing the CITW instructional model. During this time, I was given the opportunity to present at Philadelphia’s ASCD 2012 along with three other district leaders (Dr. Pamm Moore, Mrs. Joanne Colacurcio, and Ms. Arlene Jenkins). It was in Philadelphia that I met Bryan Goodwin, vice-president of McREL, as he stayed behind after our presentation concluded. He was assisting ASCD in their pursuit of a site to film a video series on CITW 2nd Edition. The long story made short is MPS became that site.
Within the district, we were forced to select only a few of our great teachers to be possible features on the program. The story that Dr. Cook shared captured his school’s experience. Along with RM Bacon Elementary, our Lakeside Middle School, Memorial Junior High School, and our Senior High School will also featured in the upcoming program. We are very proud of our staff and students but will continue to pursue our Journey to High Achieving Schools accepting that anything less than World Class simply won’t do.
What we are currently adding to the strategic plan. For student achievement we are:
1. Enhancing curricular attention – common core, detailed scope & sequence and benchmark assessments for every grade, all content areas!
Stay tuned as our journey continues…