What It's About
We've spent a good deal of time this summer, as principals, examining our mission and vision with looking at what, how, and why. I know a good number of staff always wondered "What's this about?" with requiring lesson plans a week in advance, instructional feedback, Monday morning staff meetings before school, instructional PLCs, increasing the level of structure in school to protect instructional times, strict finance policies and guidelines, and always seeming to want to raise expectations. In reflecting and reviewing material for the upcoming school year, I ran across something my brother Toby, who is a far better principal and leader than me, did with his staff several years ago. I couldn't echo his sentiments any better in answering the question of "What It's About", but did add a couple of things to it that would resonate with staff. This is what I plan to share with our staff at the close of our opening staff meeting for 2020-21 that gives them my reply to the question I'm sure they often had last year and explains the "why" of our expectations for the upcoming school year!
What constitutes "winning" in education? Winning, in terms of meeting certain levels of proficiency, doesn't necessarily constitute "winning." Our goal and focus has changed to be centered around growth for ALL children and helping ALL children reach their maximum potential. As a former coach, winning was great but we always wanted to measure our success by how well our kids played, how close to their potential they played, and how well they played together. There were some games that we won where we played awful and somehow won because our players were simply that much more talented than the other team. If you viewed a win as the total measurement of success, you had a false indication of our performance. It's a given that many of the children sitting in our classrooms won't meet designated local, state, or federal standards for proficiency no matter how well we align curriculum, facilitate instruction, provide tiered interventions based on formative and summative data, address basic needs both physically and social/emotionally, and go above and beyond to give them the best possible learning experience we are able. We don't control the level each child comes to us, but we have a profound impact on their growth each year. We control our preparation and organization, the way we tier instructional support to meet each child's needs, the multi-tiered system of supports we have in place to address all needs including social and emotional needs, and the culture and climate of our schools.
Education has to be about more than "winning," as often outlined or measured by proficiency score assessments of students/teachers for accountability purposes. Every child is far more than a test score and parents have trusted us with their most prized possession, their child, to educate to the greatest extent possible and prepare for success after their school years. Contrary to many teachers' belief each parent sends us the best child they have, there isn't a better child locked up in a closet at home. And we all know our most challenging students will never miss a day of school, but those are the students that need us the most and that bring a sense of joy to us most when they are successful despite so many obstacles and challenges. "More than winning" means we truly believe in selfless service and do everything we possibly can to help ALL children. Each child's growth and success is our success, just as their failure is also ours.
Did we fail if we only had 60% of our students "pass" the end of course test, even though the projection data showed we had 40% projected to pass? Did we fail if a student was sick on the morning of testing and didn't score well after a year of excellent preparation? Did we fail if a student scored a single point below their projected score? Our biggest failure would be if we cheated the process and didn't prepare each principal, teacher, and student for success at the maximum of their capabilities. Our greatest success is in the preparation, organization, facilitation, differentiation, assessment, remediation or acceleration, and relationships we build with students. Rita Pierson said "No significant learning takes place without first a significant relationship." Touch a heart, touch a mind, when students know you care and are prepared you'll win all the time. “More than Winning” in administration means that all of our decisions are not based on what’s easiest for adults and are ultimately driven by what’s best for kids! The attitude, character, and dedication to preparation will ultimately lead to success. It simply means giving everything we possibly can to help our schools and students be successful.
Even if we "win", there's "More Than Winning" in our profession. If the end goal or "winning" is a set score or level of proficiency, it's human nature to do "enough" to reach our goal. What could the results have been if our true goal meant "More Than Winning" and focused on helping every child reach their maximum potential? When we focus on the process and are truly dedicated in our preparation, the end results will take care of themselves with scores and growth. The relationships will last a lifetime and the sense of self-satisfaction in knowing we did everything we could for our children, every possible thing without leaving a single regret or doubt, let's us know we are committed to "More Than Winning!"