In the landscape of constant change and (attempted) educational reform in our state and nation – as a leader can you see the forest for the trees? Have you taken the time to examine all that is being put in front of you to see what aligns with what you believe and critically analyzed how mandates can be leveraged in to opportunities to exhibit true instructional leadership? If you have not – start now. Start with PERA and move forward with vigor and confidence. This state mandate taking hold in the 16-17 school-year for the vast majority of schools in Illinois holds a tremendous amount of opportunity for schools and leaders willing to see the forest through the trees and embrace this chance to create meaningful change in our schools.
Leverage local control
While many educators have been trepidations about student data being used as a component determining their evaluation rating therein exists an opportunity for school leaders. I am not suggesting that using any educator’s discomfort or stress as an opening to leverage leadership as a sound strategy. My belief, however, is strongly that a teacher would 100 times out of 100 state that using data from a test that they helped create or was created locally would be more valid and reliable (in their opinion) than a standardized assessment. This allows leaders to leverage local control and provide the support necessary for teachers to develop better assessments and better assessment writing practices. There is the opportunity for meaningful local change.
Reintroduction of rigor
Rigor is an educational buzzword. It has been for some time. This does not stop groups of wonderful educators from around the state looking at me like a deer in the headlights when I ask them to describe or quantify rigor in a manner which teachers could then employ in planning and teaching. Daggett and his team have incredible resources on this topic – but it can be pretty simple. Think Bloom’s Taxonomy and move forward from there. Leaders must know what rigor is and help your teachers move forward toward increasing the complexity of their assessments – and thereby their classes at-large. Every student has the right to think critically every day. Ensure your students have this need met.
Many schools use the PLC model popularized by Rick Dufour throughout the state and country. Even schools that do not use the PLC model can hardly argue the premises of the system outlined here. The four questions of the PLC (with slight alterations) are as follows:
- What do we want students to learn? What should each student know and be able to do as a result of each unit, grade level, and/or course?
- How will we know if they have learned? Are we monitoring each student’s learning on a timely basis?
- What will we do if they don’t learn? What systematic process is in place to provide additional time and support for students who are experiencing difficulty?
- What will we do if they already know it?
PERA allows a leader to start back at basics and ensure that questions one and two of this model are met with fidelity and in a manner that best serves students. In my experience speaking and consulting, far too many schools describe themselves as PLCs, but their meetings lack focus and their work has devolved into simple team meetings. This mandate allows for a re-focusing that in the end will improve teacher and teams of teachers performance.
Realignment of purpose
As a principal, I often asked my teachers: what is the point of teaching? The answer I was always looking for was: to cause student learning. PERA allows us to bring this question to the forefront of everything we do in schools. Great teachers change lives. There is simply no substitute for absolutely fantastic instruction provided by a first-class teacher. Ensuring that such instruction occurs in our classrooms is the job of educational leaders everywhere. PERA forces us to call one very important component of this process into question – assessment. Leaders, I implore you – see the forest through the trees and leverage this mandate to drive your school forward.