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Peter DeWitt's

Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Student Achievement Opinion

Educational Strategies and Student Outcomes Are Not in Sync. What You Need to Know

Educators need to get on the same page when it comes to student success
By Lyle Kirtman & Sybil Knight-Burney — July 19, 2023 7 min read
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The fact that educational strategies are not aligned to student results is the core unspoken conversation that is missing in education. The majority of teachers and school administrators are focused on disparate tasks and processes that are not tied directly to student results. The fact that educational strategies are not aligned with student achievement is why education is not results-oriented.

What we have created is an intricate scattershot set of choices that are task- and process-oriented and are not tied to actual clear and measurable results. In addition, the lack of clear direction produces an inability to prioritize and follow through on what is most important—high achievement for all students.

This is what we are seeing in education:

  • Unclear definition of what results for students means.
  • A workforce that has not adapted to or aligned with student needs.
  • Structures and systems that are based on preserving the status quo.
  • Lack of follow-through and poor implementation.

How do we fix what is broken in our education system? According to education consultant Michael Fullan, “The first mystery of system change in education is why has the 200-year-old current system in Western societies not transformed when the majority of people have known for at least 50 years that it does not work.”

We have lost our way – No North Star
The vision of education should be for all students to be successful. Unfortunately, educators are spending their time on the wrong work. There is an uncontrollable list of tasks and processes prescribed to teachers and administrators that distract them from their vision for student results.

In fact, we cannot even begin to define what student results mean. Are they scores on standardized tests, social-emotional skills, 21st-century skills, equity, or the myriad of goals set in your district? The unspoken conversation is that educators are too stressed and do not have the time, energy, and skills to step back and integrate these three areas (academics, SEL, and equity) into their practice.

A Solution: Equity Results for all
The solution is to have one North Star that integrates all three areas and builds them into every aspect of education. Having an academic focus with an integrated lens of SEL (well-being) and equity can be applied to the classroom, professional development, finances, facilities, and any goal or situation.

Decreasing the time on separate committees and in professional development programs that don’t result in an integrated approach will result in better results for students and less stress on educators. This integration will develop a positive culture of action and free up needed time to focus on student outcomes.

We are desperate and can’t fill teacher and administrative positions
We need a workforce that is trained and prepared for today and tomorrow’s challenges. The pandemic has highlighted that we are not able to hire, retain, and develop a workforce that can meet these challenges. Waiting for things to go back to normal or creating a new normal is not enough. Education has to stop dealing with symptoms with old and outdated strategies. Districts are using traditional HR practices based on consistency and compliance that are not attracting talented people.

A Solution: Transform Human Resource Into Talent Development and Management
We need to transform human resources into talent development and management. This means a focus on recruitment and more creative ways to find talent and bring that talent, whether it’s teachers or leaders, into your district. For example, Kirtman’s work indicates that results orientation is generally higher with people of color. People of color have a higher sense of urgency for change and are tied less to the status quo.

However, these leaders of color find themselves discouraged and blocked by the current educational culture. We also need to create an environment for teachers and administrators where they feel valued and have a role in connecting and influencing results. We need to cut down on meaningless tasks and processes that tie up time that have no impact. New models need to be established for educational structure and staffing, a full commitment to the power of a diverse workforce and understanding the imperative of teacher leadership. Creating a systemic approach to finding and sustaining a talented workforce needs to happen now.

We must hold people accountable for their actions but are afraid they will quit
Extrinsic accountability is the nemesis of professionalism and motivation. Top-down teacher and administrative accountability, which is the fabric of education today, is antiquated and unsuccessful. Currently, we have a top-down accountability structure, and teachers are afraid to get into trouble. Therefore, they are not trying new ways of teaching. Teachers have become more innovative from Kirtman’s data during the pandemic but become discouraged if their ideas are not valued.

A current belief is that if teachers are held accountable, they will improve student achievement. The general assumption is the only way we can attract and retain teachers is to pay them more money, and we do not have enough funds.

A Solution: Results, Not Compliance
Federal, state, and traditional hierarchies in education still believe that we must hold teachers and even students accountable. We all need to understand that staff will be more successful and stay in education if they can control their own narrative. Evaluation should be focused on continuous improvement and goal setting aligned with student achievement.

While the evaluation process does need to be completed to document and remove people, it should not be the focus. Putting people on improvement plans (PiP) rarely results in success. “PiPs don’t improve performance. They may even do more harm than good.” (Forbes.com, Aug. 8 2018, Robert Glazer) Self-evaluation tied to results for students with a continuous feedback focus is much more successful in improving results and is research-based. Kirtman talks with hundreds of teachers who are in teacher leadership programs he has developed (10 nationally) and to teachers’ union leaders. One teachers’ union leader said that teachers realize they will not get a lot more money, but they want to be treated fairly financially.

What they do care more about is how they are treated, recognized, and valued. Teachers are the closest people to the students and they need to be treated as professionals, and if that happened, most would respond in kind. A focus on motivation and a feeling of belonging are key factors for teacher and student success.

We can’t set high expectations for all students and staff
Currently, the feeling in education is that we have to set realistic expectations for students and staff based on a range of factors, from economics to the stress of today’s world. Different expectations are often set based on external forces (i.e., pandemic, economy, demographics, culture, etc.).

Our responses to the external forces are to lower expectations. With these lower expectations, we have no North Star. Not having a North Star creates a vacuum that is filled by polarized rhetoric. The polarized rhetoric in our country is wearing people out. We need to stop spending time in polarized camps having divisive debates which lower our expectations. Instead, we need to start seriously discussing closing the disparity gaps by being more results-oriented and be about the business of setting and achieving high expectations for every student and staff.

A Solution: Stay focused, Maintaining High Expectations for All
High expectations need to stay the focus always, no matter what the challenge. However, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have to first be met as was made very clear during the pandemic. Kirtman notes that high-performance teachers (based on his leadership assessments) did not lower standards during the pandemic and increased student achievement.

Central office needs to shift their role to model high expectations and stop sending their separate work and goals down to the principals and teachers. Instead, they need to be a true support center to the schools. Let the schools drive the work for results and provide the PD and other supports they need to be successful. Allow a results culture to create mutual accountability. Learn and help people work in cross- functional teams where all views are valued.

We continue to move forward on choices and actions that are not based on genuine conversations and lack a common agreement for success. Our education system has lost its way, and our students are suffering. Actions are important, but without common goals, they are destined to keep us spinning and perpetuate the lack of results that have occurred. Fullan says it well, “Maybe 200 years of doing the same thing is enough, and it’s time to focus our efforts somewhere else.”

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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.

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