Focus like a Leader

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“Effective leaders focus laser-like on the quality of instruction in their schools. They emphasize research-based strategies to improve teaching and learning and initiate discussions about instructional approaches, both in teams and with individual teachers.”

taken from The Effective Principal: Five Pivotal Practices that Shape Instructional Leadership, The Wallace Foundation

Watch and be Inspired

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Yesterday, I watched the 2001 documentary The Accidental Hero: Room 408 and am still thinking about it. The success these students have with Mr. Lindsey is incredible. These kids and Mr. Lindsey have inspired me. The love, care, discipline, guidance, dedication and hard work are evident in this classroom from not only teacher to students but among the students; they study together, encourage one another and even pray together. This is an example of a true learning community in which these kids are working their way into exciting opportunities in high school then college and beyond. What a blessing to see that as of 2015 Mr. Lindsey was still teaching! I hope he still is. 🙂

Innovate or Replicate?

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Innovation: Something new and uniquely useful – Asymco  1) the introduction of something new 2) a new idea, method, or device : novelty – Merriam-Webster

Transform: to change in composition or structure; to change the outward form or appearance of; to change in character or condition : convert – Merriam-Webster

If you hear anything positive about public school systems these days, it probably includes the term “innovation” or a derivative thereof – districts of innovation, innovation labs, innovative schools, innovative practices, etc.  Are innovative practices best practice? Once a practice has been deemed innovative, how long should that practice be identified as innovative?

After reading Kristin Anthony and Tim Klapdor’s posts this morning, I wonder if it’s innovation that’s taking place or is it replication of the innovative acts of others. Does it matter? If kids are making the necessary gains, do we care whether or not it’s innovation or replication?

Real innovation requires change… That’s where the complexity lies – it’s not about coming up with something new, it’s about convincing people to change. To let go of traditions and to trade in status, comfort and power from the old model to embrace something new and different. It’s for this reason that true innovation is exceedingly rare. – Tim Klaptor

Klapdor proposes that innovation requires change therefore time and retrospection is necessary to determine whether or not an act was innovative. In other words, you can’t just say you’re going to innovate; that determination is made later when the results are evident.

Innovations are therefore the most demanding works because they require all the conditions in the hierarchy. Innovations implicitly require defensibility through a unique “operating model”. Put another way, they remain unique because few others can copy them. – Horace Dediu

If uniqueness, change and reflection are necessary components of innovation, is your district or school actually innovating practices and transforming the system? Can novel, inventive or creative actions within a traditional education model lead to deeper learning?

If you read Dediu’s post and some of the accompanying comments (so many I couldn’t read them all!), you’ll see that several folks disagree with his take on innovation. Whether you agree or not, perhaps the focus should be on answering questions like these.

  • Why does innovation matter in public schools?
  • How will defining innovation lead to better school systems?
  • What steps can schools take to design actions that have the potential to be innovative – new, unique and a way to sustain necessary change?
  • How can we keep the focus on creating intentional, well-designed learning experiences instead of feeding a societal desire for something NEW?

What do these ideas on innovation mean for P-12 educators? I was almost convinced that this discussion/debate was not relevant until I read Dr. Max McKeown’s post on innovation and determined that some key elements he mentions will support guidance on this subject.

Based on my knowledge and experience as an educator coupled with the information outlined in this post, I believe the following might be useful during planning and implementation phases. Of course, I haven’t created a comprehensive guide to planning for innovation by any stretch of the imagination here, but this process might help start (or continue) a conversation and dialogue with your colleagues about innovation and system transformation.

  1. Define Innovation: What is innovation in P-12 education?
  2. Establish Need: Why do we need to innovate?
  3. Create a Vision: How will we innovate?
  4. Choose an Innovative Focus: Which area(s) do we need to focus on based on the evaluation of our need?
    • Process Innovation – new ways of doing something in the areas of instructional practices, professional learning, etc.
    • Organizational Innovation – new ways of people working together in the areas of teacher and leader collaboration within and across districts, professional development, etc.
  5. Measure Progress: How effective is the innovation?
  6. Adjust: When will we make adjustments and changes if we see that our actions aren’t producing the results we anticipated at the rate we need?
  7. Iterate: How often will we measure progress and make adjustments throughout the school year? How often will we cycle back to step 1?

After examining these ideas for some time today, I believe that the semantics of the term “innovation” matters little to the work of systems change for P-12 public schools. It doesn’t matter whether or not your school’s innovation efforts are categorically innovative as long as academic outcomes are improving at the right pace and kids are happy, socially successful and safe. Whether your efforts are innovative, inventive, creative or merely novel doesn’t really matter as much as designing a system that engages your kids in a meaningful, productive, thought-provoking and empathy-centered curriculum.

 

Tell the Story

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While most Americans celebrated Independence Day today, I spent the day finishing Cole Knaflic’s book Storytelling with Data. I’m sure that spending my day like this today makes me the queen of all nerds. 

I’ve never been a numbers person, but I got involved with strategic planning several years ago at work and added data analysis to my professional growth plan, which has taken up residence there. Do you ever really get to a point of taking data analysis off of your growth plan? Maybe for some, but I’m sure it will always be an area of growth for me. Both professionally and personally, data analysis will always be one of my growth areas that will require focus and dedicated time spent learning how to better collect, analyze and share data in a narrative that invokes action. 

What drew me to Knaflic’s book was this video. In the video clip, she speaks to the need for creative and artistic data visuals that help you tell the story you’ve discovered in your data.

Leverage design to indicate to your audience how to use and interact with your visualizations.

As I read the book, the importance of pretty and functional visuals was not lost on me. I’ve seen some graphs and visuals that did nothing to help me understand the purpose for which they were intended; a lot of bars, lines and dots colorfully displayed but devoid of a conclusion that I should reach. 

If there’s a conclusion you want your audience to reach, state it in words.

By keeping it simple, highlighting what the audience needs to see and framing the data in a story that the audience can emotionally connect to, you help the audience understand the importance of what you’ve discovered in your data analysis. 

In conclusion, if you bother to take the time to collect and analyze your data don’t lose sight of the most important part – design visually appealing data communications that pinpoint a call to action for your audience. 

If you know any data visualization experts who might have time to mentor or coach me as I practice what I’ve learned, leave me a comment or send a private message via email. melsuzfer@icloud.com