Medium 9781934009239

Five Big Ideas: Leading Total Instructional Alignment

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Outstanding leadership in a professional learning community requires practice and patience. Simply trying harder will not yield results; leaders must proactively train to get better at the skills that matter. This book offers a framework to focus time, energy, and effort on five key disciplines. Included are reflection exercises to help readers find their own path toward effective PLC leadership.

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Introduction

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The idea of ensuring that all students meet and exceed rigorous learning standards as determined by mandated assessments is daunting for many educators. In fact, our most enduring educational challenge has now been made into a law: The No Child Left Behind Act has brought national attention to the need for change and accountability. We are now being asked to deliver on the very premise on which our educational system was founded, “education for all.” With strong, legislated accountability measures now in place, ensuring learning for all is no longer an option. It is now a mandate.

Educators are searching frantically for ways to meet this educational challenge. Even traditionally high-performing schools recognize the need to improve to ensure that all students demonstrate mastery of the intended curriculum. Obviously, most educators have always been concerned about those students who struggled to learn and did not succeed in school. Caring teachers and administrators have continually sought ways to reach and teach all children. This concern has translated into countless educational reform efforts in our schools. Yet there always seem to be those students who just don’t make it, who fall between the cracks.

 

Big Idea One: Institutionalize the Total Instructional Alignment Process

ePub

It’s no surprise: Students learn those things they are taught. This sounds simple enough, but despite all the efforts to improve schools, this important idea is too often overlooked. This brings us to the first Big Idea for school transformation: Institutionalize the Total Instructional Alignment process in your school. The TIA process must become the way business is conducted in every school, every day. This chapter will present an in-depth overview of the TIA process detailed in Total Instructional Alignment: From Standards to Student Success (Carter, 2007). Not only is TIA a necessary prerequisite for student academic achievement, it forms the central core of the teaching and learning process and is the essential foundation for school transformation. Therefore, the TIA process must become established practice in the school and be woven securely into its culture. It is crucial that teachers and administrators not only understand the direct impact the process has on student achievement, but also effectively and consistently apply the principles and practices of TIA in their classrooms and throughout the school.

 

Big Idea Two: Create a Totally Effective Learning Environment

ePub

Several years ago, I learned a lesson about the importance of a supportive environment the hard way. I had a small water garden in my front yard, which was home to several beautiful koi fish, water lilies, dragonflies, and an occasional frog or two. This little environment had established itself over the years and evidently was extremely conducive to small pond life. It was a joy to watch the pond thrive, see the beauty of the lilies, and watch the dragonflies return day after day to their established home. One day, after a long dry spell, I noticed that the water level in the pond was low. I added some house tap water to fill the pond to the correct level. I was unaware this new water contained chemicals that were not supportive for pond life. The fish soon died, the flowers followed shortly thereafter, and the dragonflies went away. When the environmental conditions in my backyard pond were no longer supportive, they actually became destructive, and the result was disastrous.

People are also very sensitive to their environment as they work to implement programs and processes. In a supportive environment, individuals thrive, grow, and produce good things. In an environment that is not supportive, they may often have difficulty performing even simple, everyday tasks. Instead of helping to support our well-being and success, poor environmental conditions impede our effectiveness. With positive conditions, it is easy for people to focus on the successful implementation of even the most complex processes.

 

Big Idea Three: Focus on the Quality of the Teacher

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When I was a principal, I used to affectionately tell any teacher who needed to be absent from school that it would be impossible for me to find a “substitute teacher” because, as far as I was concerned, there really was no substitute for the teacher. At best, I could put someone in the room to cover class. Clearly, the single most important factor that affects student achievement is the quality of the teacher (Darling-Hammond, 1997). Total Instructional Alignment must be implemented by excellent teachers who understand and deliver quality instruction every day in the classroom. Most of us vividly remember those excellent teachers who crossed our paths and the lasting impact they had on our lives and our learning. Those teachers not only had great expectations for our success as individuals, but were also excellent instructors who knew how to teach and who found ways to make learning exciting and fun. Those teachers made us want to come to school each day and helped us want to learn.

 

Big Idea Four: Redesign and Align Time for Learning

ePub

Several years ago, I enrolled in a technology course because I was interested in learning how to use Microsoft Office PowerPoint presentation software. A colleague and friend of mine decided to participate in the course with me. At the time we enrolled, my friend had far more background knowledge about the computer than I, and he told me that he had already experimented a little with PowerPoint. Not surprisingly, he quickly became skillful using the software. Although I learned as well, it took me more time, more practice, and a very patient instructor. Eventually, however, I also mastered the basic PowerPoint software and learned to use the program effectively. Thank goodness the instructor recognized that my colleague and I had different learning needs for both time and instruction.

If I had tried to keep up with the pace of my friend, I would probably not have been very successful. Had the instructor moved the course along at my friend’s pace, not allowing me the time I needed to master the more basic skills, I would not have been able to keep up. Chances are that I would have fallen behind, eventually becoming frustrated and just giving up, thinking it was too difficult for me to learn. On the other hand, I suspect that my friend would have become frustrated and bored if he had to wait for me to catch up while the instructor worked only on the more basic computer skills that I needed. It would not have been fair to my friend to make him sit and waste his valuable time waiting for me to learn.

 

Big Idea Five: Learn and Adjust Based on Data

ePub

My job causes me to spend a lot of time on airplanes. Thankfully, over the years most of my flights have been fairly routine and uneventful. However, there is one particular flight that I will never forget. I was flying from Atlanta to Albuquerque. It was a relatively smooth flight, and everything had gone along pretty much as usual. Toward the end of the flight, the pilot announced that we had been cleared for landing and should be on the ground in just a few minutes. He asked the flight attendants to prepare the cabin for landing. As we approached the ground, I looked out the window and noticed the sky was getting unusually dark. I also noticed what appeared to be a wall of rain in the distance quickly moving in the direction of our plane. The landing gear had already dropped and we were almost touching the ground when, without warning, the pilot suddenly pulled up the nose of the plane, causing it to shoot straight back up into the air, the force of gravity throwing all the passengers back in our seats.

 

Conclusion: Leadership and the Five Big Ideas

ePub

I once heard someone say that if you think you are leading, but turn to discover there is no one behind you, you are probably just out taking a walk. It does little good for those in leadership positions to forge on if they do not have the support of those they are leading. Successful implementation of the Five Big Ideas presented in this book will involve changing the way a school does business. From our own experience, most of us have come to realize that true and lasting change in education is never easy. It requires hard work, effort, and commitment on behalf of leadership. The Effective Schools research defines instructional leadership as a key component for the strength of any school (Lezotte & McKee, 2002). Strong leadership must directly relate to the primary mission of schools—learning for all. Leadership for learning requires leaders who can establish clear and positive direction and transform their schools into organizations where all students are able to succeed.

Without effective leadership, it is very unlikely that any school can experience the kind of lasting change proposed by the Five Big Ideas. Leading the school transformation process will require courageous leaders open to new ideas and willing to seek creative solutions, who persevere even when times get tough. Most important, it will require leaders who can visualize and effectively articulate the big picture of the school transformation process to all stakeholders. Without a compelling vision communicated clearly from the very onset of school transformation, it may be difficult to convince others to come on board and support the process. In the past, many educators have experienced change as passing initiatives that start out with good intentions but eventually devolve into fruitless efforts that yield minimal results.

 

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