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A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Are You Activity Rich and Impact Poor?

By Peter DeWitt — November 01, 2019 5 min read
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Have you ever felt like you had a list of things to do that seemed like it was a mile long, and after completing the list, felt like you weren’t any further along than when you began completing the list? This constant feeling of completing tasks at a fast pace happens in our personal and professional lives, and it’s contributing to our burnout.

Over the last year, I have been working with district personnel to help them understand how their actions impact student learning. These districts often feel a high sense of burnout, but they keep pushing forward with the hope that life will calm down soon. Through the work, we use a program logic model to help guide our discussions. Figure 1 below is an example of a program logic model I created to help keep districts focused.

Figure 1

Program logic models have been in existence for a long time. Many examples are available on the internet, and they can go from a few easy steps to models that have many steps involved. As you can see from the one I created, it is very easy to process the information, and comes down to five steps. Program logic models can be used for state, regional, district, building and individual growth. The five steps I added to my program logic model are:

Needs - What is the area of need you want to improve upon? What does your evidence show you (i.e. Achievement gap, Trust issues, Student engagement, High dropout rate, Lack of a common language and common understanding, etc.)?

Inputs - These are resources necessary to achieve growth in your area of need. Inputs might include time, research-based articles or models of successful practice that are happening in other schools.

Activities - Some examples of activities may be walkthroughs, flipped faculty meetings or PLC’s. Those examples are meant to help us actively engage in the improvement process. It’s how we use these activities that matter.

Outputs - I added outputs to the list, because the research behind change shows us that we stay in the pre-contemplative stage of change for extended periods of time. In this version of a program logic model, we need to put a time stamp for outputs. This means we add, “In November I will begin flipping faculty meetings to create a common language and common understanding around XYZ.

Impact - We should understand how our actions will have a positive impact on students, teachers and staff. If our chosen area of improvement does not ultimately have a positive impact on those groups, we should probably discuss why we may be choosing that area of improvement in the first place.

Two Examples Where Schools Are Activity Rich, And Impact PoorAs I go through this process with building leaders and teams, or district leaders and their teams, there has been a glaring issue that becomes obvious to many people around the table. The individuals around the table are really good at writing down countless activities that they may be completing in their positions, but when it comes to impact they cannot always define the impact their activities are having.

Let’s take walkthroughs as an example. Many leaders do walkthroughs in their schools. Some leaders can clearly define why they do walkthroughs, and have a common language and common understanding of walkthroughs with staff. However, there are other leaders who feel pressured to do walkthroughs because they see their friends doing them on social media, or they have been told by a superintendent they are required to do ten walkthroughs a day. Unfortunately, this ends up having very little positive impact on teachers and students because a walkthrough that isn’t clearly defined or one that is done out of compliance, does not typically result in a positive experience for people in a school.

Let’s take another example, which involves professional development. This may seem odd coming from a person who facilitates professional learning and development, but going through the program logic model has been eye opening. One district spent tens of thousands of dollars sending teachers out to a popular collaboration conference every year, but their biggest area of need is that their collaboration time is not impactful. The conference is great, but after sending teachers out to it for ten years there should be a higher level of impact, no? Professional learning and development many times is an activity that results in little impact. It’s one of the reasons why many of us use a competency-based approach to learning in professional learning and development.

In the EndThis is a very fixable issue for teachers and leaders, and it begins by going through the program logic process. In many cases, groups using the program logic model find that they have activities that can be crossed off the list, because there is too much overlap in activities. In other cases, individuals believe in the activity and begin looking deeper at why those activities have not led to a greater impact.

Where do we start? Where can we use a program logic model?

  • Classroom teachers can look at instructional strategies they are trying to implement to increase student engagement and decrease negative behavior on the part of students. Perhaps they need to look at models of successful practice (i.e. colleagues, Teacher Channel, other schools) to see if those groups are implementing the strategy differently.
  • Building leaders can look at their classroom observations or walkthroughs. Using the program logic model may help them understand that they have not clearly defined what those processes need to look like.
  • District leaders (i.e. superintendent, assistant superintendents, etc.) can look at the activities they assign to building leaders to get an understanding of how those activities have a positive impact on student learning, or worse, become a barrier to focusing on student learning.

Overall, in these times of diminishing resources and high levels of burnout among staff and leaders, it may be time for teachers and leaders to use a program logic model to see where they spend their time to make sure they are not activity rich and impact poor.

Peter DeWitt, Ed.D. is the author of several books including Collaborative Leadership: 6 Influences That Matter Most (Corwin Press. 2016), Coach It Further: Using the Art of Coaching to Improve School Leadership (Corwin Press. 2018), and Instructional Leadership: Creating Practice Out Of Theory (Corwin Press. 2020).

Image courtesy of Getty Images.

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.