R.I.C.E. is a guide for principals that breaks our work into four quadrants: relationship, instruction, communication and evaluation. By essentializing what we do, we reach our goals faster and with higher accuracy. Last month, I discussed the importance of relationship-building as the keystone to student success. This month, we will explore the “I” in the method, touching on the big picture “gotta haves” that lead to improved instruction for all learners.
Coronavirus fallout has shocked U.S. education like never before. Perplexed school leaders seek answers to questions. What learning model should we use? How do we address learning loss? How do we support teachers? Responses to these questions have been impressive. As more and more students return to school, though, the true question arises to instructional leadership. Will teaching and learning finally improve or will a pre-COVID-19 status quo survive?
As I see it, COVID-19 disruption presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redesign our systems midstream. Those willing to capitalize on this opportunity will trailblaze 21st education into a new era. Instructional leadership needs to:
- Admit that overall pre-COVID-19 instructional practices were subpar, especially for marginalized groups.
- Use simple and clear change processes, such as the R.I.C.E. method, to ensure a better product for our most important customers.
No matter where strategic planning ends up, the following recommendations will ensure educational leaders make the right moves at the right time.
Instructional leadership tip 1: embrace a growth mindset
If you are feeling more negative than usual, it’s time to pitch the fixed mindset and embrace a culture of growth. Instructional leadership should demonstrate a “we got this” attitude that will charm stakeholders into change. If unabashed positivity and salesmanship are not your mainstays, “fake it until you make it.” If that’s too much, use a strategy from Oregon Department of Education’s “Ready Schools, Safe Learners” guidelines. Shift your building narrative in three key areas:
- Learning loss > Unfinished learning
- Remediation > Acceleration
- Recovery > Renewal
Instructional leadership tip 2: leverage stakeholder voice
I understand why instructional leadership cabinets want to privately discuss initiatives before pitching their ideas publicly. In my experience, though, this is a mistake. Leaders need to leverage teacher, parent and students’ voices on day one of strategic planning. Doing this increases buy-in, saves time and builds on thought partnerships. If you would like a low-touch model, try Hapara Workspace. Or use Google applications, such as Classroom or Forms, to collect ideas via surveys or collaborative documents.
Instructional leadership tip 3: adopt a digital platform
It’s time to move to a digital learning platform forever and always, such as the Hapara and Google Workspace for Education workflow. For my traditionalists, robots will not invade your classes. Yes, textbooks, circle time and science labs are still crucial. Adopting and sticking with a digital platform for instruction is a student-centered, organizational method that creates a “learning hub.”
A digital learning hub can systematize learning goals, activities, feedback, collaboration and communication in any mode. That includes person, hybrid and online. Plus, it can tolerate interruptions, such as wildfires, pandemics and inclement weather. When you partner it with an assessment system, it allows teachers to personalize instruction. Then they can understand the details behind students’ gaps and strengths. It also allows students to visualize their progress, which builds student agency. For more on the importance of digital instruction, check out these articles on organizational management and keeping students organized.
Tip 4: facilitate the fun
As we welcome more and more students back to our schools, shower them with fun. I’m not suggesting you throw instructional aims out the window. Instead, I’m encouraging you to push your teachers to find entertaining ways to approach classroom engagement. Try modified board games, exciting science labs, outdoor moments, creative writing, finger painting, over-the-top spirit assemblies, Jeopardy and Mad Libs. Having fun helps young people balance COVID-19 strife. Plus, let’s be honest. Entertaining lesson plans are mandatory in a 21st century classroom that competes with video games and social media.
Tip 5: fund your initiatives
Principals and instructional leadership should be experts at finding money to pay for the change they want to see. Learn your state’s grant system and submit grants often. If you are a school receiving targeted improvement dollars, do not hesitate to write curriculum, technology and other needs into your improvement budgets. Just be clever on how you word your goals and requests. If EdTech will help you meet your instructional goals, many companies offer pricing and financing consulting resources. Reach out to the companies and ask for tips. They’ll be happy to help.
Tip 6: drive decisions with data
More than ever, student data should be at the center of our decision-making process. There is no time, particularly for students of color, to make guesses about student academic and social-emotional levels. Remember to use wrap-around data to look at students and student groups, versus a singular data point. Also, your assessment tools don’t matter as much as the assessment information. Instructional leadership should also carve out time for regular student study meetings. Also help teachers make changes to educational plans if a student is not growing at an acceptable rate.
Tip 7: consolidate work
Principals tell me all the time about awesome initiatives falling short because they and their teachers burn out. The trick is to consolidate your school’s workload. At the principal level, serve as the gatekeeper of capacity. Pick one to three school improvement goals and focus on those. If a possible distraction pops up, which they do, have the courage to say, “That move does not help my school reach our goals.” Then be sure to streamline your teacher’s workload.
I do this by connecting SIP goals and teacher evaluation goals. I work with teachers to find areas they’re interested in that fold into our school wide aims. At first, teachers push back. That’s because no one wants an evaluation attached to a school-wide goal that depends on the professionalism of others. However, I point out the time and energy a teacher saves. They no longer have to generate products for the SIP and for their evaluations. My buy-in is high then and we tend to reach our goals, avoiding partial implementations. FYI, I use Google Classroom to facilitate 100% of my staff evaluations.
In my experience, the vast majority of classroom time still mirrors past practice—sit-and-get or one-size-fits-all. It does little to support all learners in a manner that is respectful of a teacher’s work-life balance. COVID-19 has widened the gaps present in education; we know this. What we don’t know is the best way to untie a knot that’s been in the making for the last 70 years. The instructional leadership ideas above are meant to unravel that knot—so we can lace up our shoes, get out and play a new game.