The three levers should not be merely a collection of disconnected events. They should be a part of coherent, focused program that drives toward particular outcomes for each staff member and serves the overall vision for the school or district.
To provide cohesion to the three levers above, there are several essential things that will support and ensure success:
1. Adopt and act on the implementer’s mindset.
Foundational to any major initiative, the implementer’s mindset—focus, discipline, and accountability—is a key part of ensuring that whatever initiatives you implement are successfully implemented. The mindset is an attitude that strong implementers hold about what it takes to be successful. A precursor to action, this attitude is not a strategy or tactic but rather a heightened sense of awareness about implementation, and it is necessary for all ILT and PLC members.
2. Ensure alignment between your instructional initiatives (the levers) and your school or district’s strategic plan.
A strategic plan serves as an essential foundation and roadmap for all improvement efforts in your school or district. It ensures that all educators are on the same page and serves as a "living document" that is referenced throughout the year to check on progress and to ensure that all initiatives are in direct alignment with the plan.
Misalignment or lack of alignment between a strategic plan and additional initiatives (such as the three levers) not in the plan can lead to confusion among staff, extra burdens on teachers as priorities may conflict, questions from school boards about approving funding for initiatives that are not clearly aligned to strategic goals and initiatives, and ultimately lack of progress towards student achievement.
If you haven't developed a strategic plan yet or it has been a while since you updated yours, consider doing a planning process that includes:
- A careful review of data and recommendations from the instructional needs analysis or quality school reviews;
- Internal and external stakeholders working collaboratively to develop the plan;
- An end product that includes a vision, theory of action, assets (what's working already), aspirational yet achievable goals and priorities;
- Short-term, 45-day “rocks” or short-term projects for the ILT to begin implementing at the school and district levels;
- A strategic abandonment process for “clearing the deck” of initiatives that are not working while guarding against ending initiatives prematurely.
The key to getting traction towards your vision and goals is ensuring that your ILTs are regularly referring back to the strategic plan and maintaining progress through short-term projects (or rocks) that will ultimately lead to the bigger win by the end of the year.
3. Conduct an instructional needs analysis or quality school reviews at the beginning and end of every school year.
To make progress, school and district leadership must have a full and accurate understanding of staff needs and areas of opportunity identified through:
- Student achievement data;
- School-improvement plans;
- Teacher goals and evaluation data;
- District/community/school initiatives (e.g., standards, innovation with technology, blended learning);
- Research and best practices; and
- Teacher/participant feedback and needs assessments (e.g., surveys).
To get an objective perspective and to identify how new initiatives are impacting student achievement goals, we recommend working with a third-party organization (such as Insight) who can provide some helpful observations and recommendations to inform your improvement plans and priorities.
4. Join or create a networked improvement community.
Teaching and leading can be isolating, whether you’re an educator in a large or small school or district. In today’s world, schools and districts should not accept geographic isolation but instead leverage technology to forge partnerships with districts, charter management organizations, and schools across states with a similar needs, goals, and philosophies. This is where the power of Networked Improvement Communities (NIC) lies.
Stemming originally from Douglas Engelbart of SRI International and then further developed by the Carnegie Foundation, a NIC is a distinct group that arranges human and technical resources so that the community is capable of getting better at getting better and can be that critical force needed to the key levers to grab hold within a school or district.
The NIC also provides principals, assistant principals, teacher leaders, and teachers with a broader network of peers for meaningful, job-specific collaboration and provides systemic pathways for effectiveness and successes to permeate across (not just within) schools.