School improvement expert Jim Knight believes that every school should have an "instructional target" -- a one-page plan that all educators in the building agree represents the key ingredients for "our school's success."
In his widely praised book Unmistakable Impact, Knight contends that traditional school improvement plans are too massive and detailed -- and often created with too little involvement of school faculty -- to have a transformative effect. Instead, Knight proposes that schools undertake a comprehensive professional learning process through which teachers, instructional coaches/partners and school leaders identify and adopt research-based practices that they believe will improve teaching and learning in their school. These practices are documented in the one-page target.
Knight tells us that the PROCESS of developing the one-page target is as important as the target itself. The proof of that statement can be found in the stories of teacher-coaches participating in the Alabama Instructional Partners Pilot project, which we've published here at the Best Practices Center blog.
One of those Instructional Partners, Alyson Carpenter, is our ABPC IP-in-Residence this school year. In a recent post for the pilot project's private online community, Alyson documented the process she and her colleagues at Columbia Elementary School (Madison City) experienced last year as they developed their first Instructional Target.
I'm delighted that we have permission to share both Alyson's account and additional comments by Nelson Brown (CES principal in 2011-12, now principal for Liberty Middle School) and Amanda Evans (the 2012-13 Instructional Partner at Columbia) in a two-part post.
I think their insights and lessons learned will be a tremendous help to other schools pursuing this strategy. The details Alyson shares here will likely deepen your understanding of the process and the critical importance of involving everyone in the school in creating the one-page Target document.
Creating the Instructional Target- Part 1 (the PROCESS)
by Alyson Carpenter
2012/13 IP-in-Residence (ABPC)
2011/12 Instructional Partner
Columbia Elementary School
Creating the Instructional Target for us was a process, which we planned in stages. We fine-tuned and added to our plan after each stage in an effort to be sure it was a collaborative effort. We began in October 2011 and finalized the Target in January. It was worth every minute we spent to have a completed Target with 100% agreement and commitment from all of the educators in our building.
I would like to give a disclaimer up front that what I describe here was our own way of doing this. It would probably not work in just the same way in another setting. We're all different. However, you may feel free to take anything we used and tweak it to fit your needs. Our only request is that you share what you do back with us (through the Alabama Best Practices Center) so we can all continue to learn together!
Stage 1: Are we ready to have true DIALOGUE?
During our first planning session, Principal Nelson Brown and I discussed the school culture and how we were already a very happy school. This was great, but we knew that going forward we would be discussing the core beliefs of educators and expected we would have differing opinions along the way.
Because we were accustomed to the “culture of niceness” many teachers and educators live in, we wanted to break down the walls and really be open to true dialogue where all would feel free to share what was on their mind and also feel free to disagree when core values and beliefs were discussed. We wanted to reach a collective vision, so we knew it would be important to create some norms for the communication we would have throughout the process.
We decided to use a protocol Mr. Brown suggested -- Freire’s 5 Requirements for Dialogue. We brought in our team leaders first and used the “Say Something” protocol, then asked this group of leaders to serve as table leaders and discussion starters the following week when we took the exact same activity to our faculty meeting.
Here is one of the packets used for those meetings: Team Lead & Faculty Dialogue Activities.
We began the discussion about change and how making change is a process. We had heard many concerns about what was not working with programs in our school and district, and Mr. Brown related how the creation of the Target would help us in future discussions with district leaders about exactly what we did or did not believe was best for our students. Having this collective vision would allow us to be heard as a group and also help us to see how closely our vision aligned as a school.
Stage 2: What is HIGH QUALITY Teaching and Learning?
In the second stage of our target creation, we met with each grade level and posed the questions, “In your opinion, what is high quality teaching and learning? What should it look like at Columbia Elementary School?” We began by watching a lesson on video and "grading" the instruction. In this activity we found that we were not consistent in our beliefs across the school or even across several grade levels. At this point, the preparation we did for dialogue felt like a very smart idea. We discovered how strongly people feel about what great teaching and learning looks like!
The dialogue piece really helped us to make these conversations productive. We asked each group to use the “helicopter visioning” protocol first to take a bird’s eye view of our school and document using sticky notes exactly what they would expect to see if HIGH QUALITY instruction was happening in a classroom. They documented each piece of evidence they might see on a post-it. They repeated the process with different color post-it notes for evidence of what they would expect to see if HIGH QUALITY learning was happening.
Once they had completed all post-it notes, we asked them to remain silent and work together to group/organize the notes on charts labeled Teaching & Learning (Affinity Mapping). This process was done in silence, and the teachers had to “listen” to each other by reading the post it notes, using hand signals, etc. This was an effective way to ensure all voices would be heard and that equality was there throughout the process. This activity also helped each group to see that they agreed more than disagreed!
Here are photos of the process in action: Photos of CES Target Creation at Different Stages
Here is the presentation from those meetings: Instructional Meeting- Our Vision for HQ Teaching & Learning.
We were ready to move forward at this point, but then we realized that all of our special education teachers had been out of the building during these meetings. We decided to back up a bit and not only repeat the process with them, but to also be sure we had included every teacher in the building—including the school counselor, media specialist, art teacher, etc.
Stage 3: Did we miss anything?
Once all teachers had a chance to add to the charts, we asked team leaders to come back for another session. In this session, we asked them to look at the charts from the point of view of their team. For example, the technology team leader looked for technology (which was in short supply). This prompted further dialogue and suggestions to be taken back to the faculty.
After discussion and some additions to the charts (tech and safe school environment items were added), we were ready to move forward and begin to narrow our focus. We began to think about what Jim Knight refers to as the Big 4: Community Building, Content Planning, Instruction, and Assessment for Learning.
Here are the handouts for this Team Lead Session: Team Lead Sessions / Activities
At this point, we left the charts hanging in our PD room and invited anyone interested to revisit them and add suggestions to a chart. The charts remained there for a couple of weeks.
Stage 4: How can we narrow our focus and fine-tune our vision?
When we knew we could not put it off any longer, Mr. Brown and I sat down with what seemed like mountains of information. We had 2 charts for each grade level K-6 (Teaching & Learning), a chart with the additions of Team Leaders, and a typed list of all the information from all the sticky notes. Trying to organize the information was something I did over and over again.
We spent a while at this stage feeling “stuck.” We finally went item by item and created several clusters of ideas. I think this stage was the hardest because we knew we needed the Target to be concise, but we were drowning in information. We also questioned how to narrow down the information and who to include in this part of the process.
Eventually it was decided that we would include members from our Core Instructional Teams (Literacy & Math), which meant two representatives from each grade level as well as two special area representatives. We created our own protocol for this one, and it actually worked! We tried to honor the values of voice and choice and really saw the benefits of our work on dialogue at this point.
Here is the session packet we used for this: Core Instructional Team Session
Once these teams had worked to narrow our ideas and make them fit the Big 4 framework, we asked them to discuss their level of agreement and commitment using a chart exactly as Knight used in Unmistakable Impact (p. 71). (See Photos in presentation above)
Stage 5: Have we finally hit the Target?
At this point, we knew it was time to take the draft back to the entire faculty. We took the time to take every artifact (remember - there were mountains!) to our school’s Media Center and put all of it on display. We wanted to remind teachers that these were their own ideas about High Quality teaching and learning.
We revisited the entire process and asked for them to take a gallery walk and then spend time discussing the Instructional Target draft with their grade level team. The response was overwhelmingly positive. We knew we were ready to ask the entire faculty at this point to share their level of agreement and commitment. We repeated the activity suggested by Knight and had 100% on board. We really felt this was due to the collaboration and involvement of all teachers each step of the way.
Our completed Target can be seen here: Columbia Elementary School Instructional Target
At the close of our final meeting in January, one teacher did approach me afterward. Her words were, “Well, I guess if everyone at Columbia believes that we need to be differentiating instruction, I will need to get better with that.” At first I took this comment in a negative way. But the more I thought about it, the happier I was with the fact that the pressure she felt to “do differentiated instruction” was not coming from the top down, but rather was an internal pressure coming from colleagues who expect the best of each other.
This is just one example of the POWER of the Instructional Target. You can read more about the power it has in an upcoming blog post co-authored by three of us who experienced it at different levels: Mr. Nelson Brown as administrator, Amanda Evans as a teacher/team leader, and me as the Instructional Partner.