Collaboration and a Culture of Yes
We have a north star, a shared vision of personalized proficient learning for all. An understanding that the energy of students, educators, families, and the community must be the central driving force. And a system of reciprocal responsibility built on autonomy and continuous feedback in order to provide every child, every chance, every day.
Our efforts must focus around the metrics and objectives that we expect at each level of our system to help us realize our goal toward personalized proficient learning for all. Our mirror must be established at every level by simply asking what would we want for each of our students as if each and every one were our own children. This must be our first priority if we are ever going to reach our world class goals established by Oregon’s Achievement Compacts and stated 40-40-20 goal, or in our district and building school performance plans. Tight on outcomes, but with flexibility for each individual at whatever level to build on the processes they need to put in place to achieve them. This central charge of fostering each and every student to reach their greatest potential demands a central focus on improving educator effectiveness. This starts with a common set of clear and rigorous standards for both teachers and principals paired with a system of on-going feedback and coaching to improve performance, rigorous content and curriculum at every level for our students, and most importantly a move, supported by the new possibilities of learning empowered by technology, to a student centered learning model where students know what, know why, and know how they take ownership on the journey to mastery.
To permanently impact any educational organization we must now diligently focus, clarify, and simplify in order to produce the stability that only comes when we all have a clear and consistent understanding of why we do what we do and the guarantee that it will not change or constantly be added upon by the next “big thing” in education. In this movement we cannot swing from one new initiative to another. Accountability demands responsibility and with responsibility comes providing support and resources to allow all of us to achieve our vision.
This focus on supporting, vs. adding to the work needed for students, teachers, and principals to become proficient when toward our standards of excellence is our only work. For expectations, whether they are mastery of learning standards or my kids’ manners at the dinner table, only define the desired outcome. It is folly to think that the expectation alone actually causes the outcome to occur. How much a student learns, has more to do with the conditions we create and intentions for their growth than the expectation of what that growth should be. As we move forward, my hope for our collaborative commitment is to become a crowd-source that focuses all of our efforts to support. We must spend our time and energy focused on providing staff and students with the tools and resources that allow them to successfully meet the performance standards and proficiencies we have put in place through a reform agenda of accountability, evaluation and assessment systems.
We can no longer expect the system to do more with less. It is not about what we think we are asking teachers, staff, and students to do, but instead it is about supporting what we prioritize so that what we do is done well:
- Relevant Professional Development
- Effective Performance Evaluations based on a ‘Culture of Yes’
- Data-Driven, Personalized Proficiency-Based Learning
- Learning Empowered by Technology
While we focus on the supports and tools that lead to excellence, the reality is that we do not have sufficient resources today to achieve all of this vision. But we must not allow these facts-—-the reality of the present-‐-‐to turn us away from the future we imagine. We must not allow the forces of cynicism to overwhelm our sense of possibilities for change. For unlike past efforts with lofty goals for improving education, our model does not depend on a top-‐down, outside-‐in approach. While state-‐level leadership will be necessary to produce the significant changes in how we budget and set policy for education in Oregon, the mission will be kept alive not by the Governor, Legislature, or the Department of Education-‐-‐but by the students and families and teachers and support personnel who are working daily to make a difference by making learning personal. The real action will be in the classroom, not the Capitol. The learning gets personal movement will work because we have figured out how to create an educational culture that prioritizes sustainable improvement by providing actionable feedback to teachers and ensuring each teacher has the tools necessary to actualize our shared vision of personalized proficient learning for all students.
The work that should be the one and only central focus is a simple one. Each of us must commit to continuous improvement, or as John Wooden said, “ Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
This means if I am a principal—did I work today to get better as it relates to achieving the standards of effective leadership as outlined in our administrator performance standards? Principals in the system must constantly be looking for ways to reduce waste and improve quality. In education, waste includes time spent on unproductive activities or less effective teaching strategies. Service in education is focusing on the needs of students and meeting those needs in more effective ways. Giving teachers effective feedback for growth and the time to think and talk about their work and methods (focused collaboration) is essential to constant improvement.
This means if I am a teacher—did I work today to get better as it relates to achieving the standards of quality teaching as outlined in the Danielson framework? There is no shortage of good people—only a shortage of knowledge and skills. People can be afraid of new knowledge because knowledge leads to change. All personal growth will have its roots in knowledge and feedback—in what people learn through training and coaching as they participate in discussion, read, and attend conferences. Ongoing training is essential to professional growth and personal fulfillment.
This means if I am a student—did I work today to not only understand the learning objectives, but more importantly, to understand why it is important for me to know it, and ultimately how I can apply my learning to reach my dreams? For learning is not something done to you. Learning is something you chose to do. School is at its best when it gives students tasks that will not only cause them to dream big, but dream dreams that they can work on every day until they accomplish them.
This means if I am a parent – did I work today to actively support my child’s education growth? Did I make sure my child has good attendance? Was I an active participant in their learning by advocating for and accessing continuous feedback on their academic growth? Did I help my child take personal ownership and invest in the importance of their own learning by fostering their unique talents and skills?
With this purpose in mind, it is vital that we work together, for when we teach a child to make good decisions, we benefit from a lifetime of good decisions. When we teach a child to love to learn, the amount of learning will become limitless. When we teach a child to deal with a challenging world, she will never become obsolete. And when we give students the desire to make things, even choices, we create a world filled with makers.