In my world of school improvement, what every principal wants to see, as soon as possible, are improved results. The bottom line is increased student achievement. That is what our work is really about. And, as I have said before, this work is not linear… it takes a road map of sorts to get around the speed bumps, the detours, the hills and valleys. It takes courage to tackle the current reality, to face the brutal facts about what is and what is not happening in your school and it takes a hands on approach to get the work done. Just like in this picture, Dr. Watkins, Principal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Bibb County, Macon, Georgia is completely focused on the right work. And she is getting results. Here is some of her story…
I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Watkins this past July as she started her journey as the new principal of the school. Right away I knew she had the passion and energy that was needed at this low performing school to really turn it around. One thing that really struck me in our first conversations was her desire to create collaboration and commitment among her teachers. She had a vision and seemed to understand right away that she could not do the work by herself. As I wrote about last week, a “group” of people alone does not create shared ownership. Developing authentic collaboration takes time and conversation. And Dr. Watkins knew she had to start here. From her first conversations with teachers, she intentionally focused on creating deep understanding of the needs of her students and some of the first steps that they would take together to address these needs. We developed a 30-day/60-day/90-day plan that supported her vision of improving collaboration, instruction and evidence-based decisions to create more learning opportunities for students. And she stuck with the plan and already is seeing improved results. Here is what I observed last week at the school…
When I go in to the school (and especially last Friday), I can see right away that the students are really focused on learning. Now, in some schools, it is obvious that the teachers are working hard at teaching but that doesn’t always translate to the students working hard at learning. You see, we often say, that the teachers go home more exhausted then the students at the end of the day. We want that to change, we want the students to own their learning and know that they have worked hard at this during the day. And, I saw so many examples of that transition at the school last week. Teachers were working in small groups with students focused on intentional instruction, they were engaged and they were able to discuss their learning with others. (And, I might add that this was after two days off for snow cancellations! Coming from New Brunswick, Canada I am pretty used to being “snowed in” as we like to call it, however, being “snowed in” while in Georgia was a little unexpected! It does play havoc on the students and adults who try to get back in the swing of things when they return to school so it was especially nice to see the focus last Friday at the school!).
One thing I know is that this focus does not just happen. Dr. Watkins has intentionally and clearly developed her expectations for what classroom practice should look like. She started by gathering the teachers in the summer, long before school started, and leading conversations about their current reality and what the school could become. She knew and acknowledged how stressful it can be to work with students who have great needs and she confirmed that she knew that this “team” could do it. She committed to supporting the teachers in building collaborative teams, developing a stronger understanding of effective instructional planning and she explained to them that they would become much more evidence-based in their ability to meet the needs of their students. She would help them see, in their data, what the students needed and how to plan next steps so teachers knew what to do next.
What she asked of them was a collective commitment to believe in the students and this work. She knew that they had to trust her first and to see that they were making a difference with the students. And, I could really see this developing during the past few months at the school. I remember being there in November in Dr. Watkin’s office and reviewing her most recent student reading data. She was so excited to see the growth in the students. She would often jump up to leave the office to go talk to a student or a teacher about the growth that she was seeing… you see, she was celebrating along the way and her enthusiasm and commitment to the students is contagious. Both the teachers and the students are responding in a positive way.
In this eighth blog, I could not set pen to paper without reflecting on this recent visit to Dr. Watkin’s school. I can see the collaborative sharing of students evolving and the authentic conversations about doing whatever it takes to support student achievement. The teachers know that these students deserve all that they can give them and they are beginning to see the benefits of this mindset shift. So, I will leave you with a few thoughts- If you are leading a school, is it time to review and reflect on your current reality? Do you have a strong sense of shared ownership in your school? Do you have collective commitments that have been agreed upon by your staff? Would it be a good time to revisit this with your teachers? If you are reading this as a teacher, what is your personal commitment to working collaboratively with others? How are you supporting continuous school improvement in your school? And, most importantly, is student achievement improving? See you next week when we return to Jan and Willie and catch up with them in their high school.
One thought on “Seeing Results”
As I reflect on the work we did at MLK last year, I realize the importance of trust in the adult learning process. We had to make our teachers trust that we wouldn’t see them differently if they failed, didn’t know how to do something, etc. This is something I’m now teaching my leadership team to do with their departments as we continue to strengthen our focus on the same goal of increased academic achievement.
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