In my role as an Instructor in the Educational Leadership doctoral program at California State University, Fullerton, I teach a course on strategic planning. I define the visionary archetype as someone who has the ability to foresee a compelling image of the future.
I define a visionary leader as someone who can strategically plan to make that future a reality. Much more than a future ideal, vision is also a means to examine the complex reality and distinctive features of an organization.
All strategic plans start with a vision for student learning. And in its most simplistic form, strategic planning is filling the gaps between where an organization is and where it wants to be.
Given the complexity of urban education and the cultural dimensions of racialization and linguistic hegemony, my primary task as the superintendent is to bring clarity to our purpose and mission and secure the appropriate buy-in from all staff regarding expectations and norms. In my current role as the instructional leader for my district, my team and I discovered a pervasive belief among many teachers that all students could not learn at high levels. Furthermore, we identified multiple policies and practices that were not aligned with our vision for student learning, anymore than our human, material, fiscal, and education resources were. For example, we discovered inconsistent grading practices (i.e. the excessive entanglement between achievement and behavior), outdated retention, promotion, and placement policies, and the absence of the systematic use of data to drive curricular and instructional decisions.
Knowing that teachers are better able to modify their instructional strategies when they have timely information about the skill levels and proficiencies of their students, my team and I have utilized the Professional Learning Community framework as the centerpiece of our curricular and instructional model, as I have done in my previous experiences as an intermediate school and high school principal. We started by building a coalition of stakeholders to guide our work, which initially focused on examining our existing paradigm where time was the constant and learning was the variable, instead of the other way around.
Our priorities became eliminating competing initiatives and aligning contract language with our most pressing needs. As the Chief Negotiator for the District, I have worked closely with the union leadership team to increase professional development, increase the length of the school day, build leadership capacity, and provide flexibility related to teacher assignments.
What has not been negotiable is delivering high quality, culturally and linguistically responsive instruction and utilizing common formative assessments to drive instructional decision-making and identify students for intervention. At the core of our instructional program is Direct Interactive Instruction (DII). An aggressive professional learning plan was implemented to ensure every member of the instructional team is certified in DII. The cornerstone of our accountability system is strong instructional leadership and includes among its primary elements learning walks, Peer Assistance and Review, and embedded instructional coaches to support teachers. Evaluation is used as a tool to identify a direct cause-and-effect relationship between teaching practices and student achievement and facilitate a common language of instruction district-wide. This continuous improvement cycle model has long been the foundation of my philosophy related to curriculum and instructional leadership.
In practice, it revolves around identifying essential standards, creating formative and summative assessments, assessing formatively and frequently, collaborating as a data team to analyze proficiency, and responding when students are not learning with timely interventions. In my current district and in my past experiences, course-alike teams of teachers meet weekly during collaboration time embedded into the school day to analyze the before-mentioned formative assessment data and strategize to improve student mastery.
I would be remiss to engage in any discussion about curriculum and instruction without addressing the Common Core State Standards. When I arrived in my prior district in 2012, where I headed Education Services, I immediately partnered with LACOE's regional support team to conduct a local needs assessment. Once we identified our needs we developed an implementation plan and set priorities for professional learning using Common Core State Standards Implementation Funds. We have moved well beyond the awareness and transition phases and are deep into full implementation, as reflected in our LCAP. Our current efforts focus on articulating with our partner feeder K-8 districts and preparing for the transition to Smarter Balanced assessments.
While CCSS/SBAS implementation is on every leader's mind, it must not divert one's attention from the bigger picture of the new accountability model and all of the peripheral issues related to it. Read my March 29, 2015 blog for more information.