Practice Activity: Aligning Efforts and Keeping Staff Focused on the Target
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Focus other stakeholders on the target

. Stakeholders have the same need as staff to know what their school’s goals are and how well they are progressing toward meeting them. Principals need to develop a communication plan that will include periodic updates on school goals and progress toward meeting those goals. Results from data analysis should be shared. MSPAP and CTBS data are readily accessible to the public already. Consequently, you would want to clearly communicate that your school analyzes that data and uses it to make improvements. No matter what your data results are, the critical message to communicate is that you learn from your data and use it to determine what additional changes your school needs to make to improve the achievement of your students. You cannot afford to be defensive about your data. You cannot blame students or sub-groups of your students for your data results. Nor can you blame teachers for the data results. Use your data as feedback information about how you are doing and what you might need to change to get better results.

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A useful strategy is to develop a communication plan for your stakeholders. Include in your plan when you will communicate new data results, school improvement goals, progress toward those goals, and data results and what audiences need to know this. Use your PTA newsletter and board meetings and any other regularly scheduled time. You will also want to consider how to share this information with volunteers in your building, business partnerships and other community members.

Another communication strategy is to create a school bulletin board that focuses on your school goals and monitors progress toward the attainment of those goals. It should maximize the use of graphs, charts, and other visual displays and minimize the amount of text to tell your school’s story. It should allow staff and stakeholders to quickly see where you are, where your are heading, and how the journey is going?

School entryways are an important place to establish your priorities. What are the messages one receives from your entryway and hallway that leads to the main office? Use it to communicate your school priorities.

You may want to listen to Frank Tull, principal at Wm. Paca / Old Post Road Elementary School in Harford County describe how he sees data being displayed at his school.

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Some schools have found success in creating an accountability event. On the Rethinking Accountability Web site sponsored by the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, accountability events are described as "public forums hosted by schools or districts. that bring together the school faculty and a broad representation of parents and community members to discuss the school’s and the community’s educational goals or to examine data on school performance. You might want to take a look at this site to get some suggested formats, practical advice, checklists for use in hosting an event, and snapshots of actual school accountability events.

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When communicating your priorities to stakeholders, you must also be aware that what you say will not be believed if it is also not what you act on. In a recent article in the Journal of Staff Development (JSD), Rick DuFour reminds us that "our real missions are communicated not by what we say, but by what we do." With "tongue in cheek humor," he hypothesizes what some of our missions would read if they were really aligned with "an accurate description of how we act in the "day-to-day functioning of our schools." He provides the following illustrations:

"Our mission is to help parents and the general public understand all the reasons that our students should not be expected to reach the standards of achievement that the state has established."
 
"Our mission is to sort and select students into widely varying programs on the basis of their innate, fixed aptitude. We strive to present good lessons and to create classroom environments that encourage students to learn. We then rank them according to their willingness and/or ability to learn. Finally, we take credit for the achievement of high performing students and assign others the blame for low performance."
 
"Our mission is to provide a safe, orderly, and clean school environment. We focus on the behavior of students -- their relations with adults and each other, and their willingness to abide by school rules. We fulfill our mission when the students’ deportment reflects a school’s orderly atmosphere."
 
"Our mission is to teach the 75% of the students who are interested in learning and to apply appropriate consequences to students unwilling to put forth sufficient effort to learn."
 
You can find DuFour’s complete article entitled, "That’s Our Mission," in the Winter 2001 issue of JSD published by the National Staff Development Council.
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