One of the basic tenets of the Akribos Group is to help schools and school districts move forward. While praiseworthy, this objective is deceptively simple. Moving forward requires that we make progress on several fronts at once. In order to move forward we must recognize that setting priorities is a required skill for school leaders, both individually and in group settings.
We must also recognize that competing interests demand our attention. Just a few of these competing issues include, for example, school safety, curriculum development, student academic progress, school climate, human resources and staff development, school leadership and teacher induction. These topics are all worthy of our attention. But how do we set priorities that will enable us to achieve even small victories each day?
As we try to make progress and move forward each day, we are often sidetracked by the sometimes frequent — but often nonessential — interruptions that divert our attention. It has been my experience that helping school leaders sharpen their skills in leadership, planning, and organization are critical to success. It is our belief that a systematic approach to resolving educational challenges is the best strategy for long-term success. I am hard pressed to find an educational issue that cannot be resolved, at least in part, by positive and personal hands-on leadership, careful and proactive planning, or effective implementation and organization. These are the three pillars of the Akribos Group.
As you think about moving forward, consider the example of your Staff Development program. This process involves a 3-part strategy that should drive the professional development for your district. These components are:
· Teachers’ Perceived Needs
· Administrative Initiatives
· Student Assessment
Professional development is most successful when participants (i.e., teachers) “buy in.” In any endeavor or organization, front-line participants can offer a keen insight into what may help improve an organization, streamline a process, or solve persistent problems. Just as important, the notion that you are listening to the concerns of your staff and that you care about their ideas is critical. While teachers’ perceived needs may not offer a complete blueprint, they are important and worthwhile.
Administrative initiatives guide your district’s efforts and reflect your philosophy. As a leader, one of your key responsibilities is to set the vision for your school or school district. While this component may appear daunting at first, administrative initiatives can be enacted in a manageable and systematic manner so as to be effective and inclusive (see teachers’ perceived needs). As leaders, we do not have the luxury of allowing everyone to vote on every issue. Decision makers need reliable and valid data on which to base decisions. We need well-planned and research-based strategies that will guide our initiatives; else we are vulnerable to confusion or —even worse — failure.
Reliable data is critical to any successful initiative. In the example of Staff Development, our data set must include Student Achievement. The best illustration of this necessity may be viewed from examining our previous two elements — teacher perceptions and administrative initiatives. For example, after conducting a needs assessment among teachers let’s suppose that 7th grade math was not a high priority of teachers. Similarly, our administrative initiatives did not offer professional development for middle school math teachers. However, a critical review of student achievement data for the past year indicates that the skill deficits for 8th and 9th grade students who are struggling in mathematics should have been mastered in the 7th grade.
This is an example of why a three-pronged approach is likely to be more effective than any single strategy. Yes, in hindsight the answer is obvious, but we can all think of examples where obvious answers have at times been elusive.
Dr. Phillip Feldman