In a recent blog post, I referred to Bowen Island Community School as a “moving school.” As I was writing the post, I shared it with my colleague Laura Magrath for her input. She suggested I clarify the word “moving.”
Her concern was that “moving school” might suggest simply moving from trend to trend without taking the time and expending the required energy to implement anything of substance. If schools are planes and educators are its passengers, this would be like flying around the world, touching down on various runways but taking off before anyone has had a chance to disembark and learn about a place beyond what they could see in brief moments below the clouds. Lots of energy is expended in such sightseeing but little is gained.
The ambiguity of the word moving encouraged me to clarify between moving and wandering.
As individual educators, it pays to wander broadly: to read blog posts, learn of the latest trends, experiment with strategies.
It is best, however, for schools not to wander. Implementing change in a school requires a significant amount of time, energy and inertia, and if not done well or without follow-through, innovation too often feels like adding to practice rather than evolving practice, of increasing workload without increasing student achievement. A wandering school means that broad changes may be made, but likely not deep ones.
So, with all of the opportunities to improve the education we offer students – new curriculum, insights into brain research including executive functioning and self-regulation, access to new tools for learning – how does a school ensure it does not, in an effort to “keep up with the times,” wander from one great initiative to the next without spending enough time to do any of these initiatives well?
I have far more thinking to do on this and it is central to my professional growth plan for at least this year but my first thinking on this suggests there are three keys that help a school move rather than just wander.
The first is to clarify what the drivers of change are – goals for students – and what the strategies are to achieve goals. In other words, to start, as educators have long known, with the end in mind and then look at strategies to achieve those ends. To move, alignment of strategies towards well-articulated goals is needed.
Regarding being clear on goals for students, the new BC Curriculum, currently in draft form, clearly articulates what students are to know and understand as well as the skills – or competencies – students are to develop. The core competencies – Thinking Competency, Communication Competency and Personal and Social Competency, as well as a focus on foundation skills – literacy and numeracy – provide an ideal starting point for any discussions as to the validity of instructional strategies or tools for learning.
The second key is to identify whether professional learning is an evolution of practice or a revolution of practice.
Evolution, as I am referring to it, means doing similar things better; revolution means doing things markedly different. Evolving practice is, inherently, constant and there is a tremendous capacity among educators as learners for evolving practice.
If it is a revolution in practice, doing things markedly different, it is worth assessing what existing practices are being replaced and can be discarded to “make room” for significant changes. It is not common where entire practices are so far off the mark as to be discarded outright but changes in how students are assessed, and how student progress is communicated as related to the core competencies noted above, will likely involve a revolution in assessment as educators do more than simply adapt to the profiles of the core competencies, but instead change significantly.
It is important, through the measurement of school goals, to recognize a staff’s capacity for revolutions and to engage in evolution constantly, but revolutions infrequently.
A third key is recognizing that the crucial element of innovation is follow-through and that follow-through takes time. A school’s growth plan may be in place for several years and this does not suggest stagnation. Engaging an entire staff to pursue an initiative – and to do it well – is a far less facile process than individual learning and the inertia generated through collaboration takes time to develop and even more time for the benefits of this inertial to be fully realized.
As a new principal, I have been asked what kind of stamp I will put on the school. I will work with our school community on the evolving vision for BICS and school-wide initiatives, keeping in mind our goals for students and where we are at in achieving those goals. I believe it is important to find a balance between incorporating insights into learning and being responsive to the changing world we are preparing students for, with ensuring that educators have sufficient time to truly move on the agreed upon core strategies.
Similar to how students are encouraged to learn deeply and how teachers offer time and space for that to occur, schools must also take time to go deep. Often, continuity in change is needed.
I am interested in learning more about the keys to moving on innovations rather than wandering between innovations. Please consider commenting below on how this is done.
Further Reading and Viewing:
For an interesting perspective on the art of wandering, click here to read Sean Nosek’s blog.
Click here to read Chris Kennedy’s post, “Less But Better.”
And for an example of a true revolution in education related to student discipline shared with me for a laugh recently by a BICS parent while I happened to be writing this post, click here.