Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Power of Colleagues-Beyond School Closings

Every superintendent in the state of Wisconsin can appreciate the idea of being up at 4:30…waiting for the news to come on at 5:00 and see what schools are closed around you.  It sounds silly, but the back and forth of “to close or not to close” is an incredibly stressful part of the job.  Getting the information out early enough, making an informed decision and the recurring dream that you close school and the weather turns to a balmy 70 and sunny (that may just be me!).  So school closing becomes an issue that we bounce off other superintendents in the area.  We connect via phone, text, tweet…whatever it takes to make an informed decision.  For about 45 minutes it feels like all the superintendents in the area are working together for the safety of kids…then the day happens and we wait for the next run of bad weather to connect again.

When I first took the Superintendent job in FC I was warned that the position (regardless of place) tends to be a bit lonely.  Though there is shared responsibility throughout many administrative positions it seems to me that the superintendency is a bit more isolated.  I am fortunate to live in an area where the superintendents are extremely nice and helpful.  They are always there for me to bounce a question off of them or ask for advice.  The problem I have with the process is that we bounce issues, but when it comes to our own personal growth as leaders we rarely connect.   We expect our staff to go to conferences and bring back the wonderful things they have learned, but when it comes to our development I think we fall short.  It is truly important to find a way to connect with other people in your area…we need to bounce ideas instead of issues.  If we lead a learning organization…then LET’S LEAD A LEARNING ORGANIZATION!!!  If the expectation for our staff is to grow and meet the needs of a new learner, then we need to grow and meet the needs of a new instructor.  I recently had the opportunity to attend the Wisconsin 92nd State Educational Convention.  The Wisconsin Association of School Boards, Wisconsin Association of District Administrators, and Wisconsin Association of Business Officials put on an outstanding convention.  The keynotes were practical and uplifting, the sessions were beyond informative, and it challenged us as leaders to change the way we look at schools.  Some of us were tweeting our experience throughout the convention.  The tweets can be found through WASB Storify Archive.  My fear is that after having thousands of school leaders in one city for the better part of a week, we will all go back to our districts and reflect on the experience but struggle to implement any change.  If the day to day operations take over the inspiration to grow then we can never move forward as a school, district, and state. I had this conversation with Brad Saron (@bradfordgs), Superintendent in Cashton…we thought it would be a good idea to connect and see where it took us.  We both came up with 1 thing to implement and a plan to connect remotely multiple times in the coming months to check on the progress of our goal.

So…Wisconsin Superintendents and any other leaders reading out there (based on page views that would be 6!)…we offer a challenge to all of you…

1.  Implement 1 thing you learned at the convention into your district…with the idea that it is not an ADD ON to your staff.  Integrate what you are doing and make sure the growth is yours and impacts the district.

2. Find a colleague…instead of discussing budget, facilities, or school closings find time to connect with one other person who will hold you accountable for your plan to implement something new.

3.  Connect with other superintendents who went through the process at the Spring Convention on April 24-26 in Green Bay to share the experience.

The concept is not new…and may not be exciting, but just over a year ago I was struggling to finish a dissertation…after connecting with a colleague and setting up a plan where we held each other accountable, we both graduated in May.  Having someone there to encourage, but also push, is an extraordinary help in moving forward.  Hopefully the opportunity to discuss and grow will benefit all leaders in our schools…

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Power of Implementation

Some say the current QWERTY keyboard is one of the slowest working keyboards in existence.  It was created for typewriters to slow people down so the little arms that typed the letter would not get stuck together.  Yet, we still use the QWERTY keyboard in almost everything we type.  Conversely, Captain James Lancaster unintentionally discovered that lemon juice reduced the risk of scurvy on Naval ships and it took 111 years before it became a prerequisite in the British Navy.  The point is this…some really bad ideas get implemented in organizations and some really good ideas don’t…most of the time it has to do with the way those initiatives are implemented.
All school leaders face the implications of implementing change in an organization.  District, state and national initiatives seem to be brought into the fold on a yearly basis.  It seems as though we finish one initiative just to get ready for the next.  The challenge for leadership is to keep everyone invested in the idea of change while still valuing the work of the past.  All people handle the change process differently.  Some will embrace the process because they like the challenge and things get too stagnant for them.  Some will absolutely refuse the change process as they like the way things are done and essentially will wait for an initiative that they like before they dive in.  Most fall in the middle of the group.  Phil Schlechty’s book, Working on the Work presents an outline, field-tested in schools across the country, for improving student performance by improving the quality of schoolwork designed for students.  He poses the following questions to schools as they approach a new innovation or framework:
1.      What is the new circumstance or system we are trying to create?
2.      Can it be done?
3.      Should we do it?
4.      How do we do it?
These questions serve as the foundation of whether or not change can happen in schools.  He contends that anyone involved in the change process of schools needs to be aware and address the organizational makeup of the school.  Once you have made the decision, or the decision has been made for you, it is important to identify the needs of your staff in relation to the change.  Historically, for financial and logistical reasons, when a change is implemented there tends to be a small group who is trained in the model and that group is asked to help implement the change.  In doing this, the large group has to accept that some will have more knowledge than others and though a group may be more “in the know” it does not mean that they are the sole decision making body in the school.  The trick for leaders is the connection between those in the know and those who seek the knowledge. 
I was lucky enough to look at multiple schools and the implementation of the PBIS process.  The fidelity measures of the framework allowed me to look at what factors truly impacted the implementation process.  The following factors contributed to the successful implementation of PBIS at multiple schools in Wisconsin.  The understanding of these concepts can prepare leaders for the change process and identify needs of the group prior to implementation.
·         Knowledge.  Knowledge incorporated a number of different aspects from how the program was running to how they could increase their “tool box” of good things happening in the school
·         The importance of a Connector.  This turned out to be the number one factor in the positive implementation process.  A go to person who was able to communicate and be knowledgeable about the process, where it had been, and where it was going.
·         School Environment.  Addressing the current school environment is important when deciding how to roll out an initiative.  Some school environments are welcoming and ready for change.  Some need a small push.  Some need a big push.  All need to be valued.
·         Communication.  An open and honest level of communication between everyone involved was absolutely essential for the positive implementation of any program.  A common understanding of when and how things are communicated will help the process take form in schools.
Change is inevitable.  In Wisconsin we have seen and will continue to see a number of changes throughout the state as education changes in the coming years.  The process that leaders use to implement change can determine whether or not that change will be sustainable.  Identifying the factors that lead to a successful implementation will certainly be key to success.  Good luck everyone!