Five Statements That Guide a Team Toward Its Vision

By Dr. Jane Bartley

Everyone knows the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” A photo taken during an LSI Leadership Academy session captures the essence of that statement perfectly.

Listed on a dry erase board are five statements that describe the work teacher teams in MSD Lawrence Township will tackle this coming year; work that will define their grade-level teams. The teams hope to transform their classrooms into catalysts for deep and enjoyable learning… catalysts of intrinsic motivation in students.

MSD Lawrence Township is in the second year of working with Learning Sciences International’s Leadership Academy. During the September Academy session, teams throughout the district committed themselves to transforming the very nature of schooling in Lawrence Township. The photo captures evidence of the first steps one team will take in realizing that goal.

Teams participating in facilitated work whittled down the enormity of this challenge to five statements, which are short, but packed with promise:

  • We all have to be able to see it (vision) together
  • If we are not on the same path, we will not reach our goal
  • We need to make change collectively
  • If we all commit to change, we’ll all be growing
  • We’ll be able to measure our growth and reflect to continue growing

 

The sense of efficacy is genuine. We together can do this. We together will meet this challenge head on. We together will seize opportunities to learn by working with others in a way that serves to bridge what we’re doing now as educators to a richer, more valuable school experience for our students.

Rather than become overwhelmed, the teachers in this picture have distilled the scope of their work into a synergetic relationship between the present reality and their commitment to transform.

We All Must See It Together

First, the team agreed that a shared vision is critical to the mission. The team must see the same outcome, paint the same picture of the future, and be able to articulate the same description not only for themselves but also for everyone else; teachers, administrators, parents, and most importantly students.

The vision must be clear and serve as the guiding light. Creating a shared vision is difficult work, but the outcome is worthy of the time and effort it takes to paint that picture. Without the guiding light, teachers just wander around in the darkness, falling into the ruts that have habitually plagued educators as they grasp for the “silver bullet.”

If We Are Not on the Same Path, We Will Not Reach Our Goal

The team also noted the pitfalls associated with the journey. That guiding light will flicker off in the distance and disorient the team if we wander. Stakeholders will become disillusioned, confused, and frustrated. The vision or goal must create a clear pathway, and adherence to that goal is vital.

We Need to Make Change Collectively

The pathway is dynamic because teams will encounter new learning that adds to team members’ knowledge and skills. At first, team members might be a bit amateurish in the implementation of new strategies, models, and routines. But with collaboration and peer coaching, they will gain skill and fluency in their practice.

Teams members will take risks and support one another. Because teaching and learning are thoroughly studied, some new learning might be viewed as an asset or an obstacle. The good news is that teams will be examining pedagogy or data collectively to see if it has relevance in moving toward the vision.

If We All Commit to the Change, We’ll All Be Growing

The commitment to the vision causes a synergy that permeates the school. Initially, the shift might be quiet and almost unseen, but staying true to the vision will inevitably shift the school culture to an overwhelming sense of competence, collaboration, and autonomy. Academic intensity and positive emotions will become integral and routine.

We’ll Be Able to Measure Our Growth and Reflect to Continue Growing

As teams gather evidence of their learning and that of the students, monitoring, tracking and measuring the impact of actions toward the vision become critical components.

  • How are the strategies working?
  • Are we realizing the improvement we had hoped for?
  • Do we need more data?
  • Is the barrier one that can be overcome, or do we need to revise?

 

These questions and more must be explored together intentionally and in a systemized manner. The data will come from student work, PLC conversations, instructional rounds, and scheduled RigorWalk® needs analyses. Teachers, as learners, will continuously model the cycle of learning; execute, measure/review, reflect, and revise.

On first read, the statements don’t sound like rocket science, but we all know human interaction is anything but simple. Coming to a consensus and mutual understanding of the meaning within the words is a highly complex and difficult undertaking.

The team wrote the statements in a way that holds them accountable and tells us explicitly that they own the work. The statements don’t use a lot of words, but they don’t need to. The words they do use paint a picture. The joy and accomplishment captured in the image tells the story.

Jane Bartley, Ph.D. has more than 42 years of experience in K–12 education. She has served as a teacher, assistant principal, principal, and district director. Most recently, she held the title of Director of Educator Effectiveness for the Evansville Vanderburgh School Corporation. In that capacity, she was charged with implementing a robust educator evaluation system for the district.

Dr. Bartley is knowledgeable in effective practices associated with teaching and learning, and has successfully and efficiently led groups through continuous change within the context of a large complex organization. Presently, Dr. Bartley works with Learning Sciences International in leadership development.

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