Over the past 18 months we as a school having been reviewing our performance as a school through the student, teacher and parent lenses. There was lots to celebrate which we have. However human nature is a curious things for we seek the road to improvement – not necessarily enjoying the change journey to achieve it.
At the start of the school year the staff took a day to unpack the improvement road (called a 4 year strategic plan) and what it means to them as teachers in classrooms and art studios on a daily, weekly and yearly basis.
We tested our current knowledge of the “plan” through fun quizes and cloze sheets, we talked in pairs about some values (explicit and implicit) and we walked through some classrooms to spot how teachers and students were unpacking our values through norms and expectations.
After a short water break we then talked about the twins tensions of sustainability and improvement.
For many years as a Principal I have participated in these reviews and improvement plans and have seen the improvement targets swing over the ensuing 8-10 years from maths them to reading then to spelling then to…. you get the point we eventually get back to maths.
Sometimes the pendulum swings because student results drop, or many teachers leave and the ‘corporate’ knowledge that was developed has been diluted or lost. Sometimes its a political inspired (local or national) policy of the month where we all need performance development accreditation or computers in classroom or student health issues are so apparent we need constant revisions of analyphaxis, asthma, diabetes, anxiety and depression, autism spectrum and the list goes on… Don’t get me wrong on the last point student health is important and always gets a go.
But you see my point here – how does teacher expect to teach the lot retaining instructional skills and curriculum knowledge across so huge a set of expectations. I have asked this question a few times particularly upon my return from our sister school. You see many schools in China are funded in much the same way as us here in Victoria – they chose to have teachers specialise in a subject discipline (e.g. Maths or English) – employ more teachers – have more classes per week and students in larger classes.
We haven’t gone down that path of teacher specialisation BUT what we have done for the first time in our strategic thinking is to spend time, energy and resources building ways to sustain the corporate knowledge and teacher skill needed to avoid large-scale pendulum swings.
It does mean our improvement targets are more specific and often target groups within our school and not large-scale “reform”. An example of this is our Maths target is for Years 4-6 only around the concept of “partitioning” (fractions, decimals, ratios etc.).
We have trailed over several years an approach to spelling that is consistent with our inquiry pedagogy, Words their Way. Our target is to embed this approach across all our classrooms in focused workshops that have a similar structure. It’s not new work its strengthening work.
We have had lots of success with student reading over many years although we do note a recent slight flat line result in our more advanced students. We have invested in our team leaders working with a former colleague who has a great knowledge and passion in this area and spend time clarifying our practices in teaching comprehension, correcting any dilution in the model and building new knowledge from the advances in research in this area. The team leaders can then sustain the ‘corporate’ knowledge and teacher skill in the teams).
Speaking of China one of our long-standing areas of work was to develop Asian Literacy. We have had a little stop go approach over the last few years and perhaps its about supporting our teachers show how easy they can support this work in their classrooms (adjust not different). There was a real excitement around this work as we talked in pairs about our own experiences in Asia. This will be the subject of a new post, as will our work in student writing.
The point I think I’m making here is to avoid the pendulum swing in strategic planning and spend a decent percentage of your time and energy on sustaining your key innovations as well as target new learning.