A new initiative is coming. This is nothing new. As a matter of fact, starting new initiatives is completely commonplace. As soon as an area of need is identified, we find a solution and start at it.
It starts with an informational email and perhaps even a professional learning session or two. When we’re lucky, we may get an instructional coach to help us implement it, but most of the time this is not the case.
This always starts out good (at least most of the time), but the issue is when the next issue comes on the tails of the first and before giving the first initiative an opportunity to be successful, we are already moving onto the next one with the expectation that we have mastered the first.
Unfortunately, education is a profession that centers around human beings and human beings don’t always get things as quickly as we need or want them to. It’s flawed logic.
And when we don’t provide ample time, with ample follow-up the results we are looking to obtain just don’t happen which ultimately leads to a discussion about the failure of the project or initiative when really it was a failure to follow up and follow through.
We all want students to be successful or else we wouldn’t be doing what we do. As leaders, we have to want teachers to be as successful as students and that means, we must make sure to follow up regularly with them to see how things are going and to continue to support them until we reach the desired result.
Let’s take project-based learning for example. The district you are working in has decided that we want to implement a project-based learning approach to teaching as it is proven to engage students and put more of the learning onus on them. They have more choice and more freedom on how they do the learning and what it looks like.
Now, most teachers who have read the research (and I’m sure their district has provided many articles and even bought books to help teachers understand why Project-based learning is the right solution for us) would agree that it is a great approach to learning that helps kids immerse themselves in a problem and work through it in class. Who wouldn’t like that?
Unfortunately, telling teachers that is what we are doing and then not providing them the professional learning they need to be successful, not just in the design of the projects, but the assessment and also the classroom implementation, we are setting them up for failure or something short of success.
So what can we do about it?
Leaders can do a number of things to ensure that important initiatives and district expectations are being successfully administered with fidelity.
First, we can do walkthroughs to get a sense of what learning looks like in every classroom. Gathering data from those walkthroughs, we can make decisions about how we use departmental meeting time as well as professional learning time, really differentiating it to meet the needs of our teachers.
Then we can set up small group meetings to talk to teachers about their experiences. We should talk to parents and students as well to make sure that it all aligns. From these meetings, we can gauge whether or not what are doing is working and set some goals together.
Next, we can either model how to do a project in the classroom or plan with the teacher or teacher team to create a standards-aligned project that would be appropriate for what they are working on now, making sure it aligns with the curriculum map as well. While we design the project, we need to determine success criteria first. Are we going to include the students in that conversation? If yes, when and how? Then we can create a rubric as well as a benchmarked plan for doing the project in class and planning mini-lessons based on the data we collect each day.
If the teachers don’t know how to gather formative data, we can show them, but more importantly, we need to model what to do with the data to better inform instruction and ensure student and teacher success on the project.
Then we can help them roll out the project with students, making sure to check in each day where possible to get a sense of how it is working.
Once the projects are done, the students should reflect on their learning and the teachers should take those reflections into consideration when assessing the learning overall. Once the projects and reflections are completed, the leader can sit down and reflect with the teacher or teachers about what worked and what needs to be changed for better success next time.
Now we have something to build on.
Simply put, if we want an initiative to succeed, we must follow through. Teachers learn quickly (at least I did when I was teaching) when something is going to be dropped and therefore don’t put the effort into promoting the initiative wholeheartedly. If we don’t do our jobs, the team won’t do theirs; it starts with the leaders.
When we clearly provide expectations, then professional support and then follow up along the way, we have the best likelihood of an initiative working and the greatest possibility for student and teacher achievement along the way.
Can you recall a time an initiative at your school was successful? Why did it work? If didn’t work, where did it fall short? Please share
The opinions expressed in Work in Progress 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.