It’s October. What have we learned so far?

While the temperature soared around 90 degrees in much of Georgia today, the calendar told an entirely different story.  It’s October.

So, what have you learned so far?

You’ve been in school long enough to generate the necessary data to make important inferences.  But, if you don’t invest adequate time to look and listen, you may miss the moment.  You have an opportunity RIGHT NOW to make adjustments that can be the difference you’re looking for, but if you’re not careful, you’ll  just keep driving forward.  There’s always enough work to keep you busy, but if you want to make progress, take a deep look at where you are now, and what adjustments need to be made to move forward as you’d like.

All right. How?  How might you take stock of your current situation and plan the next steps forward?  Here are some specific steps to take to gather the data needed, and analyze it meaningfully for change.

1.  Planning Meeting.  Bookend your quarterly examination with strategy meetings, one at the start and the other at the conclusion of your review.  You convene a planning meeting of you and your guiding coalition.  (That group might be your administrative team.  It could be an extended version of that group.  It could be any group that you determine to be helpful in reviewing your progress and strategizing next actions. Don’t EVEN try to do this alone.  You won’t have the perspective you need, nor the time to do it by yourself.)

The planning meeting is to compile a list of everything you want to know at this point.  What does August and September have to tell us?  Many of those answers should be in easy-to-access data that you’re collecting.  Other questions may require additional effort.  It’s one thing to know which students are soaring, which are floating, and which are sinking.  That’s the OPENING, not the whole story.  With that information, how might you determine WHYthose students are in each of those three categories?

One of the things your planning session might accomplish is to determine who you need to listen to, and who will do the listening.  If you truly are committed to progress, face value isn’t going to be enough.  You will need to find out WHY people are behaving (and performing) as they are.

For you as an administrator, you will want to know the same things about your teachers as we’ve already suggested regarding your students:  who’s soaring?; who’s floating?; and who’s sinking?   Yes, you have TKES to support your work but, just as is the case with the student data, this is an opener, and not the whole show.  You will want to know WHY teachers who are soaring, floating, or sinking are doing so.

Your planning session is to develop the list of what you want to know– what August and September have to tell you.  Remember this:  if you want to move the needle, you’re going to need to plan, and if you are going to plan, you’ll need to INVEST time in this process.  Many of you have Data Teams that routinely and regularly are looking at data, but this quarterly review is a bit different.  You can BUILD on the work of your data teams, but this is bigger-view exercise; you will need to get away from distractions, allot adequate time, and focus on the work in order to successfully progress.

Once you determine what you want to know, it’s time to move to step two:

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2.)  Gathering Information. You’ve made your plan; now you work it.  You collect the data you need to give you an idea of what progress has been made during August and September.  THEN, you begin a series of conversations with a number of people to gain a clear understanding of not only WHAT happened, but WHY?

Some of these conversations can be held in small groups; others may need to be 1:1.  You can get a jump start in gathering perception data by administering surveys to both students and teachers.  From those surveys, you can get a broader picture of the WHY…  for example, if you ask students who are soaring why they are doing well, they might tell you that their teachers are particularly engaging or insistent in their expectations.  The survey may accomplish much of what you’re after, but if not, having face-to-face small-group conversations may get you the rest of the way.  You don’t necessarily need to interview every teacher and every student, even in small groups;  but you can assemble some representatives for focus group work.  Also, you (the principal) doesn’t need to do all of the interviewing.  With good coordination, you can spread it out among the members of your guiding coalition.

The bottom line is this:  spend adequate, but not exorbitant time seeking the answer to ‘why’ are the results we are seeing taking place.  It will involve polling many of your Ss and Ts, and interviewing a representative sample for deeper understanding.

If you want to make progress, you have to listen to the people who are engaged in the work at the foundational level (the teachers and the students).

3:  Strategy Meeting.  Now you’ve gathered data and it’s time to convene the initial group again.  The first meeting was to design a plan to hear what August and September can tell you.  Step two was to go and listen;  now, you’re at the third and final step– what do you do with what you have learned?

The strategies that arise from this data analysis can be structural, on a school-level, or support to effect the classroom level.

For example, let’s say that your data tell you that students in your third grade are minimally progressing in mathematics during August/September.  Your brief surveys and follow up conversations tell you that students believe that instruction is moving too quickly for them.

At this point, you and your administrative team determine what you might do to approach the progress you’re after.  Maybe you focus on supporting the teacher in formative assessment; maybe you review your MTSS strategies for these students; perhaps you spend time in the classroom to take a deeper look at what may be regularly occurring.

The intended goal is this:  using the information you’ve collected, how might you align your resources and strategies in the most impactful way to lead students towards the progress you seek?

August and September have a very rich story to tell you about what’s been happening in the walls of your classrooms, the halls of your school, and the minds of your students.  You just need to invest the time needed to plan what to ask, listen carefully, and adjust as needed.

The first quarter is ending; it’s time to make the adjustments you need to go into halftime with a lead.

© 2018.  Dr. Mark D. Wilson.   All Rights Reserved.

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