Four Steps To Developing A Single Vision of Increasing Student Learning

Of course we have room for instructional improvement. In fact, until the day comes when 100% of our students make a year’s expected academic growth, have meaningful relationships with at least one adult, and have developed identities for what their lives will be after high school, we will have room for improvement.

So what does instructional improvement look like at your school? Does your vision match up with everyone else’s? If not, time and energy are being wasted. If everyone on a boat is trying to row in a different direction with a different rowing strategy, the boat will never get to shore.

The following are four steps for ensuring your school is filled with staff that share and advance your shared vision for how to improve learning and student development.

Learn the vocabulary of your teacher evaluation instrument.

Assuming you have a rigorous teacher evaluation instrument, use it as your Rosetta Stone of what great instruction looks like. (If you are not sure if you have a rigorous evaluation instrument, check out The New Teacher Project: Rating a Teacher Observation Tool)

  • Spend time as a staff pouring over the language in your instrument.
  • Develop an agreed-upon glossary.
  • Revisit the glossary as new learning emerges.

Visually represent your teacher evaluation instrument.

Once everyone is clear on what the vocabulary of great instruction is, get clear on what that looks like in practice. Make sure everyone on campus has a clear picture in their head for how the staff should be instructing and interacting with students.

  • Write up examples of what the indicators look like in different classrooms.
  • Highlight specific examples on your own campus.
  • If you can, use an instrument that has an aligned video bank. Check out MCESA’s video bank for a example.

Give honest and helpful feedback.

You know how parents tell their children that they are the best looking, smartest kids in the world? It’s sweet. It’s endearing. It’s what parents should do. But when that funny looking kid can’t get a modeling job or gets rejected from Harvard, he/she has to come to grips with the truth and realize his/her parent is awesome, but maybe not completely unbiased. Don’t do that with adult professionals.

School leaders are the keepers of the vision of instructional improvement, and are obligated to make sure everyone keeps that vision in focus. Conduct feedback-based observations; as many cycles as you can, and:

  • Be objective.
  • Be kind.
  • Be specific with your feedback, using language from your evaluation instrument.

Provide targeted support.

Every single person on a campus needs a different professional learning plan. The days of everyone always sitting through after-school presentations on the same topic need to be over. We all know they could be more effective, and we also know that some staff members build resentment against them. Look around. Who is grading papers, scrolling through social media on their phone, or having side conversations? Most likely, those folks either don’t need the learning, or don’t know why they need the learning.

This type of professional development is akin to calling a staff meeting about parking procedures when Ms. Smith and Mr. Jones are the only people parking in the bus lane.

Once you have good observation data about the staff:

  • Set focused, attainable goals with each staff member.
  • Create or collect a variety of learning opportunities (workshops, articles, online courses, conferences, etc.) based on specific elements in the teacher observation instrument.
  • Assign different staff to different learning opportunities, and tell them why you are making that assignment.

Developing a shared and singular vision for instructional improvement takes brave leaders. The bigger the school, the more ideas and beliefs about teaching and learning. The school leader is responsible for articulating, championing, and holding firm to the vision. This work can be hard. People may get mad and some people may even leave, but the leader has to get that boat to shore as fast as possible. A lot of students are counting on you!