Education 2.0 – Preparing Kids and Schools for an Ever-changing World

by: Anthony Muhammad, Ph.D., Jason Hillman, and Kwame Stephens

“No generation can escape the responsibility of deciding what students should learn by analyzing what adults are called upon to do and the current climate of their society.” (Bellanca and Brandt, 2010). In 2013, the local farms have been taken over by corporations, the factories are closing, and the days of medium-skill, high wage jobs are a thing of the past. Schools, especially school leaders, must be poised to move their focus and agenda beyond standardized test scores and into the lofty task of preparing students for a world very different than the one that they experienced as a child. School leaders must be poised to push an ambitious agenda, while maximizing scarce resources and creativity. This is not an easy task, but there are great leaders all over the country stepping up to this task.

Jason Hillman, principal of Meadowlark Elementary School in Sheridan, Wyoming is a prime example. His school struggled with maximizing human resources and improving student achievement. Jason and his staff embraced the Professional Learning Community (PLC) model of school improvement and they were recognized in 2012 as a National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. Jason has been recognized for his innovative style of leadership and building a culture of dedication and sacrifice.

In an attempt to build healthy and productive school community, he initiated a contest to change the school mascot and colors. The students chose to be Bobcats. In support of the PLC philosophy of collaboration, the support staff defined exactly what it meant to be a Bobcat, including principles like wisdom, hard-work, and creativity. They developed eight traits, and treated each trait as a learning objective. Each trait was utilized as a school-wide theme each month. The theme was highlighted on the daily announcements with examples and reminders. Classroom teachers hung posters of the trait of the month in their classrooms and discussed what the trait meant with students. Students were recognized by staff members for meeting the expectations defined in their outcomes. Students were given Bobcat Pride slips; these slips were displayed in the entryway of the school for the whole community to see. They established a weekly Bobcat Pride celebration. Through the hard work of the staff, the school’s climate and achievement have drastically improved without adding staff or expenditures. The same staff members who were once feeling left out, now take great ownership in the school. By using the PLC philosophy, they have created an outstanding behavior modification system, and the school community has sustained it. Effective leaders maximize the talent of their staff.

Kwame Stephens, the principal of Pontiac High School in Pontiac, Michigan knows first-hand what it’s like to lead in changing and challenging times. He is forced to inspire a staff to improve student outcomes at the same time the district is facing serious fiscal austerity measures. Instead of complaining about what he could not control, he decided to focus on things that the staff had direct influence to control, and those things included climate and instruction.

As an instructional leader, he felt that he had to be clear about what effective teaching was and what effective teaching looked like. Once those were clear, he had to clarify how the staff would ensure that all students were exposed to effective teaching. Recognizing the gravity of the moment, the staff created a very detailed Instructional Learning Cycle (ILC) to initiate the process of ensuring that all students would be exposed to effective teaching. At the center of the ILC were four instructional focus questions rooted in the PLC process (DuFour, DuFour, 2012). These questions focus on curriculum alignment, formative assessment, academic intervention, and academic enrichment. Each staff member was expected to implement the structure of the ILC and regular feedback with each teacher was initiated to ensure implementation of the process with fidelity. The implementation and monitoring of the ILC removed the ambiguity from the teaching process and served as a road map that led to improved learning for students.

The power of the ILC concept is found in its creative and methodical development and implementation. Chip and Dan Heath point out in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard (2011 Heath and Heath), critical moves must be scripted; meaning ambiguous goals must be translated into clear behaviors. Implementation of the ILC organized the most critical process, the teaching process. The staff understood that in challenging times, self-discipline and organization were paramount. They needed to improve, despite dwindling resources and mounting challenges. This represents the challenge of the modern educator and it is one that we all must meet.

Works Cited

Bellanca, James and Brandt, Ron (2010), 21st Century Schools: Rethinking How Students Learn, Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, IN

DuFour, R., DuFour, R. (2012), The School leader’s Guide to Professional Learning Communities at Work, Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, IN

Heath, C., Heath, D. (2010), Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard, Broadway Books, New York, NY