The Limited Potential of Individual Improvement

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As leaders, we want everyone to take it upon themselves to improve. And as it relates to improvements that don’t, by extension, make someone look bad, most of our staff will give improvement ideas an honest effort. But the improvement ideas that make the biggest impact will make always make someone look and/or feel bad. Because the improvements that make the biggest impact attack and move the status quo. That doesn’t endear the person making the improvements to the masses.

That is why the improvements that make the biggest impact must have leadership support, monitoring and protection. Here’s an example.

We are beginning to better understand the power of content exposure (improved curriculum pacing) in improving student performance and closing achievement gaps. A huge obstacle to improved pacing is the traditional instructional habit of over-reviewing everything, with everyone. The instructional tempo of almost every classroom is the never ending, mind-numbing slog of 2-steps forward, 1-step back.

Suddenly, one teacher sees the light… “What if I didn’t review everything, all the time? What if I just teach forward, longer? And just strategically re-teach the things that didn’t stick, based on assessment data? ” 

Essentially, this teacher would adopt a 12-steps forward, 2-steps back pattern. The teacher who does this will cover more content. Over time, student performance for this teacher will be higher than the teacher using the traditional and almost universal 2-steps forward, 1-step back pattern. 

OVER TIME. 

That is the problem. In the short-run, this teacher is going to see a drop in daily grades and early test grades. Compared to other teachers, this teacher will seem to be less effective. Self-doubt, peer pressure, and/or administrative pressure will cause the teacher to abandon the experiment before the payoff occurs.

If leadership is behind the experiment, the teacher will have both the protection and encouragement to stick it out long enough to experience the benefits. Or leadership gets the entire staff to engage in the experiment, so no one sticks out during the initial dip.  The dip becomes just part of the process.

The point being, real system-wide improvement, improvement that make a big impact, is a function of leadership. This is where we add value.       

Think. Work. Achieve.

Your turn…

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