Focusing on 3 Layers of Education

The saying, “The customer is always right,” has been around forever and one that I have known since I was a kid.  Switch this to the context of education, and many schools are focusing on the question of “What is best for the learner?”, which is a “learner-centered” approach to education.

Stephen R. Covey Quote: “Treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.”

What is essential to understand when you are looking at starting with a “student-centered” approach is that serving the adults in the building IS how you serve the students.  In the business world, many companies have shifted to the thinking that you treat your employees like you would your best customer. This thinking puts the people closest to those they serve in positions where they are most likely to be successful in the venture of helping learners.

Management is a crucial part of leadership.  Leadership is focusing on people, but management is focusing on the “stuff.”  You can have a tremendous vision for what you would like to do within your school, but if you are not able to do things such as manage budgets, or create meaningful professional learning opportunities for staff, the vision becomes that only. A thought of what we could do instead of it becoming a reality.

I thought of the following three layers in creating amazing schools that are crucial to leadership.  They are the following:

  1. Focus on Environment
  2. Development of Talent
  3. Learner/Student Experience

Although they seem obvious, the “simple” sometimes need to be stated.  In each area, I would like to focus on three areas, creating a 3 X 3 model for innovation.  

Before I go into each one, there have to be two statements that filter in all three levels.  The first is relationships. No matter what level you work or who you serve, relationships are crucial to learning.  In fact, as content is now everywhere, relationships are are more important in education than ever.  The second focus is innovation. At each level, we should always look at new and better ways of doing things in the environment, talent development, and the learner experience. This does not mean “best practice” is ignored, just that we never become comfortable with “that’s the way we have always done it.”

Here are the three areas of focus that I am looking at initially and will give you some brief thoughts on each point.

  • Focus on environment
    1. Stewardship of Resources – How we allocate funds within our school is where we bring the vision to life. If you are looking to go to a 1:1 environment, spending inordinate amounts of money on textbooks might show a disconnect between the type of learning you want to happen in your school and where you put your money.  But resources are not only limited to funds but also time. Do you create professional learning opportunities that have no follow up? Do people have to jump hoops to get things done, or do you remove barriers so they can make things happen quickly? Where we allocate our money and time, shows where our priorities lie.
    2. Infrastructure – If you are looking at an environment where students are taking advantage of learning opportunities exist today, do they have the resources they need to connect with people on a global scale?  For example, how long does it take to login to your Wifi within your school? Is it quick like Starbucks, or are you creating the Wifi equivalent of “dial-up” in your school? The longer it takes for a teacher to access something, the less likely they are to use it.
    3. Learning Spaces – When we hear about “learning spaces,” the default is to think about our classrooms, but what do the adult learning spaces look like?  Do students see the areas where adults are learning and do we create opportunities for staff to experience the same type of spaces that we want with students?  Where the adults learn and what that space looks like can have a significant impact on the practical use of modern learning spaces for our students.
  • Development of Talent
    1. Leadership Development – When staff is developed to lead within the school, the culture will change a lot quicker than if there is only one “leader.”  Leadership development also puts more ownership on the direction of the school on the staff. When people are given ownership over the direction of the school, there care more about what is happening.  When the direction is “ours” instead of “yours,” the speed the vision happens can be much quicker and a lot more meaningful.
    2. Professional Learning –  Do the professional learning opportunities mirror the learning that you want to happen in the classrooms?  Is the learning for the year done in a way that is thought out over time, or is the year just a bunch of “one-offs” with no clear direction? Professional learning should focus more on depth, than breadth.
    3. Learner Driven-Evaluation – The practice of going into a teacher’s classroom and evaluating what you see based on a short amount of time needs to get a massive overhaul.  The focus is too much on what the evaluator thinks, as opposed to led by the learner. We need to create opportunities for teachers to drive their professional learning opportunities, but also to be able to self-assess their areas of strength and weakness.  This does not mean that administrators have no say in professional learning or growth, but teachers need to be given more ownership over their direction and self-assessment.
  • Learner Experience
    1. Classroom-School Experience – Of course we focus on the design of learning in the classroom, but we need to think of a school as an opportunity to develop people, not just students. What opportunities do students have for leadership within their classroom? What opportunities do students have outside of their classroom?  What do students see on the walls in the building? Does it reflect them or something else? Do students have opportunities to lead the school and have more ownership in the culture? Many of my best experiences in school were not in the classroom. A lot of those experiences help shape our kids in the future.
    2. Personalization of Learning – Do we know our students and do we tap into their strengths and passions, or focus only on where they need to grow?  Knowing our students and tapping into their desires, helps develop their resiliency. Is school about fitting students into a box, or adjusting to the needs of the learners in front of you?  
    3. Assessment – How we assess often leads the teaching, not the other way around.  Student-led conferences, rethinking report cards, meaningful portfolios, are conversations that we all need to have if we are going to change the way we look at school.  Self-assessment is also a skill we need to develop in our students so that they are not dependent on someone else to tell them where they need to grow. Where and how we assess, shapes a lot of the learning experiences in our schools. This needs to be an ongoing conversation.

As this 3 X 3 model is something that I am working on, I would love your feedback.  What did I miss? Where do we need to focus to create schools that serve and empowers all learners to make incredible things happen both in and out of the environment?  

What is important to understand is that this is not meant to be an “admin” model, but an “all-hands-on-deck” process.  Part of the disconnect in each of these areas is that they have happened in isolation. How do we know the environment needed in classrooms for our students and staff to survive if they are not active, contributing members of the conversation?

Hopefully, these three layers start some conversations in helping move schools forward together.

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