Thursday, May 28, 2015

What Are We Doing About it?

While working in another district years ago, I had been a member of a committee tasked with the development of our district's annual achievement plan. At one point, in a reporting meeting with a representative from the Ministry of Education, I found myself describing the very unique challenges we faced in a particular school with its large number of struggling, often non-attending students. I have a clear and distinct memory of the Ministry rep looking right at me, eyes flashing in perfect harmony with the sequins on her silk scarf, her pointed question cutting through my "poor us" rhetoric. "Well", she asked, "What are you DOING about it?"

This question became the source of my understanding of the true purpose of these types of sessions. Any time we get together to share an achievement plan at the school or the district level, it should not be about complaining or justifying or even showcasing. These meetings should be about digging down into the real work that needs to done by our educators to improve learning in our schools for our students.

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a School Planning Council meeting led by a particularly thoughtful principal. We did tour the school, visiting classrooms where the students were engaged in typical learning with no sign of special activities invented for our benefit. Upon reconvening, our conversation quickly turned to the SPC's greatest concerns, which focused specifically on their students' literacy gaps. These gaps had been exposed then triangulated through several forms of school and provincial data pieces and teacher observation, and then humanized with specific stories about struggling students - who remained unnamed, of course. The decision to focus on these literacy gaps was formed in close consultation with parents, and led to the development of a Theory of Action, which was followed by the creation of a multi-faceted and school-wide instructional plan to address the issues, which would then be supported by Learning Rounds. Again, student progress would be tracked through further collection of the same data pieces, and analysis of that data would lead to adjustments to the plan and perhaps even a refining of the Theory of Action.

The conversation was earnest, humble, but very, very purposeful. It was refreshing to be included in this authentic process, and to get some real insight into the genuine work the school needs to do. It also focused on the two questions I feel are germane to every meeting of this type:

1. What are we most concerned about?  

2. What are we DOING about it?

These types of reporting meetings have been around for a long time. It is easy to get distracted by the scope of the challenges we face in our schools and struggle to prioritize. In some cases, the showcasing element can take over at the expense of considering the genuine work, and while I can understand the temptation to provide a certain amount of sizzle, I just happen to be much more interested in the steak. Making those two questions the focus of the session will not only honour the participants, but will likely help your organization take a significant step forward in its most important work. I also think it is what your learners deserve.

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