The Gritty Truth of School Transformation: Eight Phases of Growth to Instructional Rigor by Amy M. Dujon

Part II – Risks, Rewards, Refections – Phase 6. Getting Back to the End

  • This starts with a warning about how the summer break can cause teachers to slide back into their old behavior. This is the same summer slide students suffer, which is much more pronounced in poor students. Ideally, teachers would have some summer activity that would allow for a focus on what they did and how they want to do things better. Each teacher should evaluate where they are and set their own goals for the coming year. A conference can serve this purpose. One thing Amy did was let the students talk to teachers about what they liked about the new system.
  • Don’t forget the importance of social-emotional skills. Students who work in teams will need them. They will need social awareness and relationship skills to regulate their own behavior and the behavior of others. They also need to have empathy and conflict resolution skills. As students move to new teachers some will be without teamwork skills and some will expect teachers who weren’t on board last year to run things like the early adopters. This can serve to bring more people into the new style of teaching and learning.

Phase 7. Digging Deeper

  • Rigor required intense focus on standards alignment. The text in use needs to have the appropriate complexity. Learning targets are derived from the standards and progress in terms of complexity. There should be criteria that can determine what mastery looks like. Teachers design tasks that require students to go beyond retrieval and comprehension to analysis.
  • Amy likens teachers to coaches who design strategy for the students to execute. They then evaluate student performance and make necessary adjustments as teachers collect data during each lesson. It’s the formative data that drives instruction as lagging indicators like district and state tests are of little value. Teachers need touch points for each standard that allow them to know how the students are doing in real time. Principals focus on what students are doing and saying and ask them questions as they work. They also need to focus on the data sources that give the highest return on their limited time.

Phase 8. Distributed Leadership

  • This is the crucial next step. Principals need to loosen their grip on the reins so that students, teachers, and parents can take new roles to drive transformation. First, let your early adopters mentor and coach their peers. The goal is to make everyone an instructional leader. This improved student achievement. As students become leaders they won’t wait for the teacher to provide feedback to their peers as they take on teacher roles.
  • You need a program that will teach parents how to keep student ownership at home. They need to support learning without rescuing students with the right answers. To understand this they need to see it in action, so parent classroom visits are needed. Start with a small pilot of parents with half-day sessions. The pilot parents can then become vocal advocates.

Conclusion – Pushing Beyond the Limits

  • After two years Amy’s school saw significant gains on state testing although these tests were not the focus of the change. The process, however, is not finished after two years. For changes of this magnitude you should expect three to five years, but don’t think you are ever finished as there will still be room to grow.
  • A big part of transformation includes recruitment, retention, and succession planning. In Amy’s case, she made sure that the vice principal was immersed in this work. She even took over showing visitors around. This was important as at the end of year two Amy was promoted by the district so she could work with other schools. Thanks, Amy for your story and sound advice.

Amy M. Dujon

  • Amy is a practice leader with Learning Sciences International and a former director of leadership development, principal, and teacher. She led one of the first Schools for Rigor in Palm Beach County, Florida, which ignited her passion for student-centered, standards-based instruction. She experienced firsthand the power of a new vision to strengthen core instruction. Amy holds an MSEd in educational leadership, a BA in drama education, and is currently pursuing her doctorate. You can follower her on Twitter @AmyDujon.
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