I’m in the middle of reading The Learning Leader: How to Focus School Improvement for Better Results by Dr. Douglas Reeves, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in educational leadership. The author provides great research-based information with implications for school improvement.
Chapter 5: What Matters Most-From Planning to Performance is a chapter that resonated with me. Last year was my first year in a leadership role in my building. One of my roles was as the building’s intervention assistance team (IAT) coordinator and one of my goals was to have a clear, simple process for teachers and team members to use when targeting a student’s skill that needed to be strengthened. Writing out that process and turning it into a handy-dandy flowchart of next steps was something I labored over (way too much).
By February, I began to realize that there were other factors that were not going to be solved by a flowchart of steps. These factors included team members who were confused, but didn’t communicate that to me; teachers who just needed help, not more paperwork; and my inexperience in the role.
I decided that if I want the process of helping students through IAT, I needed to slow down, talk less, and listen more. I started to adjust the process to the teachers and students that were involved. I started to differentiate my rigid process.
Dr. Reeves points out that school buildings/districts often create written plans that are clean and organized. However, these plans are often left unchanged and the leadership remains determined to stick to the plan even though variables, like student demographics or budget short-falls, have occurred. This rigid implementation of improvement plans are why many of these schools are still spinning their wheels trying to make gains.
Dr. Reeves says that research shows that “ugly” plans, ones that change as the variables change, are plans that respond to the changing needs of the school building. It made me think of my own classroom teaching – I never stuck to the lesson plan, I just responded to the students. So if it works in the classroom, why shouldn’t it work at the building or district level too?
As I continue to develop my philosophy of leadership and learn about principal best practices, I am relieved to know that research shows that even the best laid plans need to respond to the unexpected variables. I will certainly run into a few of those as a principal.