The Successful Practices Network Leadership Academy, sponsored by the International Center for Leadership in Education, was held in San Diego January 28-30, 2011 and featured excellent speakers, compelling ideas, and energizing discussion. Billings Senior High School has been a member of the Successful Practices Network for three years, so the sessions and our own professional conversations were significant steps in our growth and progress as a school.
Through our work with SPN, we have had Dr. Willard Daggett, Ray McNulty, and Chelonnda Seroyer speak to teachers in our district. When I first heard them speak, I was unsure of the purpose of SPN, did not understand the importance of the Rigor-Relevance Framework, and hadn't heard of the Learning Criteria to Support 21st Century Learners. Now, after three years in the program, we have discussed Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships in our SPN groups. We have looked closely at the Rigor-Relevance Framework and several staff members have taken the self-paced classed called Collaborating Online for Rigor and Relevance (CORR) which explains the purpose of Quadrant D lessons and helps class members write their own Gold Seal Lesson Plans. With that background, listening to the speakers in San Diego was a very different experience.
Dr. Daggett, in his opening keynote address, explained how mandatory state testing has made schools focus on Quadrant A skills and write dozens of state or local standards in an attempt to meet AYP and the challenges of No Child Left Behind. We have overdone this, according to Daggett, and he advises schools to revisit their standards, to discuss which ones are truly necessary for quality education and end up with standards that are “fewer, clearer, and higher.” He acknowledges this won't be easy and cautions that we should proceed carefully and “make change evolutionary, not revolutionary.”
McNulty supported Daggett's comments about changing schools. He noted that the world outside school is changing faster than inside schools, causing students to question the relevance of what they are studying. In industry, change to meet the needs of the future is motivation, but in education, we often want our schools to be better without making them different. The International Center for Leadership in Education has studied hundreds of schools and they have discovered that the most successful schools have a strong focus on continuous improvement. McNulty described this process by saying, “First practice changes, then results, then policy.” Doing this will require new learning on the part of adults in a school, and he recommends a “launch-analyze-relaunch” approach to trying innovative lessons and practices.
Dr. Robert Brooks, a Harvard professor, supported the theme of the conference with a talk called “Developing the Mindset of Effective Teachers. He defined mindset as “the assumptions and expectations we have for ourselves and others that guide our behavior. You get what you expect.” According to Brooks, if we promote a positive mindset in schools, we can nurture motivation and resilience in students and faculty. He believes that the most effective way to do this is for staff members to serve as a “charismatic adult” to students, providing the guidance and inspiration that comes from strong, trusting relationships.
The conference in San Diego gave our team two important things. First, we learned or relearned many important ideas about developing a more effective school. Second, we affirmed that much of what we have accomplished during the three years we have been involved with SPN is on the right track and is leading us where we want to go. We have a better sense of direction and ideas to help us make the right changes.