As life happens so do our lessons. We work, we play, we love, we live and how much we actually stop and notice…well, I am not always sure. At least that is true for me. I hope that I am not missing too many of life’s lessons along the way. I had two of them this week; both very related and totally aligned with what I wanted to write with you about in this weekly blog as it was time for chapter four. Here is what happened…
Have you ever really felt surprised by yourself? You know, when you absolutely should have remembered something or knew it without being told? Especially when you actually do know it but stopped seeing it for some reason? Last weekend, I attended training for the school improvement work that I do. It was with several of my colleagues and led by Dr. Sharon Kramer and Sarah Schuhl. These two women have written an amazing book, School Improvement for All (https://www.solutiontree.com/school-improvement-for-all.html) and it is foundational in the work that we do. About half way through the first day, I had my ah ha moment. I cannot even tell you what we were talking about or why at that moment I had my epiphany, but I did. It dawned on me, that, more times than I should be, in my work, I was relying on my experience to guide my practice rather than the story in front of me. In other words, the current reality, the data, the evidence needed to be the first thing that I truly focused on when making next step decisions. It has always been important to me but I recognized that I needed to do a better job of this.
I know that as I go in to my schools, I bring many years of experiences that are important to our work. What I was reminded of this week is that it cannot be the most important piece of my coaching work. I have to continue to look at the evidence of adult practices, student achievement, the current picture of school routines and procedures and any other real evidence that paints the picture of what is happening in the school. I have to continue to study and be a learner of the most current and first-best practices and while I can rely on my experiences to guide me, I have to let the evidence be the lead factor.
This is the focus of chapter four of Leading with Intention, the book that I co-authored with Jeanne Spiller and what a series of eight of my blogs have been about. Jeanne and I actually wrote a chapter that states the same thing that my ah ha moment was about.(https://www.solutiontree.com/leading-with-intention.html). The chapter includes opportunities for learning and reflecting on how to become more evidence- based in our decision-making. We quote Dr. Doug Reeves who reminds us that it is human nature to use background knowledge, lean on past experiences and influence others from our comfort zone. Reeves states, “however clear the evidence, personal experience remains triumphant in too many discussions of education policy”. As Reeves acknowledges, in education, we work from our experiences and opinions more often than we should when there is evidence in front of us that can inform our decisions. You see, I knew this (I wrote about it), but I needed reminders this past week.
What does the work look like when we focus on the evidence? It is about digging deep until you find the root cause of why a student isn’t able to read, why students stop coming to sixth period class, what the trends are with staff attendance, what information is found in that state or provincial assessment data when you get it back. It takes honest, professional discussion about what is happening in some classrooms that is engaging and causing student success while right down the hall, the very same students are not being successful. It means that we hold up a mirror when we need to and examine the evidence of our own habits and any other places that the real story can be told. And, it means we continuously read and learn together to improve our skills in honor of our students. I might be able to provide guidance and support as I work with a school but the real help will come when we unpack the evidence and use it to plan our next steps.
I left our weekend of training feeling energized and eager to see my school this week. We hit the ground running with lots of work with teachers and then, circumstances brought light to this same lesson again. As I was helping my teachers with their planning for the next school year, some of the teachers were having a difficult time understanding why the work we were asking them to do was so important. I think they were truly missing the deep understanding of how this would help the students. And, so, once again, the evidence was needed.
Using evidence to articulate and see what students should be able to do at grade level and what they currently can or cannot do is the driver when planning next steps. As difficult as the current reality picture might be to see, it has to be on the table. You cannot improve schools without a deep understanding of what is working and what is not. That is where our decisions must come from. Luckily for me and my teachers, they were going to have an opportunity that same week to look at data with a colleague of mine. Heather is a rock star with deep understanding of the work that we do and she was able to create a stronger commitment to why the next steps we had discussed were the right steps. I am so appreciative of her.
As we begin to close schools for the summer and set our plans in place for the next school year, we need to move forward confidently because of what we know not just what our opinions might be. Our decisions and plans for improving schools have to be based on the evidence in front of us. And, if we don’t have the evidence, we need to get it. You may need to look in new places and directions to truly see your story. You might want help with this work and not really be sure, at first, what the evidence is telling you. The important thing is to get started and look for the patterns and discuss the “whys”. In fact, ask the question “why?” enough times until you see the big picture and you are able to tell your story. Have a great week.