In our campus leadership meeting this month, we discussed how to sustain transformation. Our campus has championed some big changes in attitude and practice as we’ve worked to implement PLCs at Work in the model of Solution Tree. We read the article Sustaining Improvement Efforts Over the Long Run by Craig Jerald and listed some of the keys to keep our new programs rolling and improving. One of the keys that kept coming up was sticking to your vision.
In the book, Great by Choice, by Jim Collins and Morten Hansen, they study companies that dramatically outperform their counterparts. They describe a 20-Year March. That is, having a clear plan and sticking to it. Don’t keep dumping your plan for the newest fad. Their study showed these companies didn’t have to have the best possible plan, they just needed to stick with the plan they had.
It is tough to come to grips with, but success isn’t immediate. College basketball coach John Wooden experienced amazing success at UCLA, including 10 national titles in 12 years. But another way to describe his record is 10 national titles over 27 years. He worked hard but his teams ended some years as third in their division of the Pacific Coast Conference before his legacy took off (including back-to-back undefeated seasons). In the article above, Jerald cites a study that shows comprehensive school reform takes off after the fifth year of implementation.
Locally, we have absolutely tried to stick to our vision and work the plan. Since taking up the mantle of Professional Learning Communities at Work, we have focused on learning and we’ve gotten a little better at it every year. We started with teachers who could agree on how to measure their students’ progress through assessment. Then we initiated a concerted effort to intervene when those assessments showed problems. Then we improved how we tracked individual student progress so personalize student instruction and intervention. And the journey continues.
In our meeting, we were in an unusually heated discussion over what we expect out of our students. We had trouble defining what “student ownership of learning” looks like. Our vice principal tried to focus the discussion by insisting we back up and determine why we wanted students to take ownership of their learning. Interestingly, the answer was in our mission statement, crafted two years ago by the leadership team: Improving the quality of life through education.
That’s why we want students to take ownership of their learning. We want them to have a quality life. We want the lessons they learn hear to impact their life — today, next week, for decades. That means our student have to define quality, and it means they have to take these lessons to heart if they are to have any persistence. That probably means increasing the level of engagement. It may mean presenting things in an unconventional way. It can mean setting a goal for a student and then negotiating how a student can demonstrate achievement of that goal.
It was encouraging to see how our latest challenge was still in line with the mission and goals we created so long ago. We are not yet to the fifth year of what may be our comprehensive reform, and the results don’t always show up where we want them to, but I firmly believe the decisions our staff is making help students. Now, tomorrow, and for decades to come.