Driving Your Initiative: Positive Pressure & Support (Part 1: Expectations)

So you’re working on your school initiative, and you really believe in it, and you really want it to make a difference.

And you are trying to pay attention to leadership for school change, and have certainly provided training to your staff and have made resources available.

Unfortunately, simply participating in training and having the resources available does not mean that students will do better or that your initiative will have it’s desired impact. The degree to which teachers implement your initiative and related strategies matters. Level of implementation matters.

So, how do you get your level of implemention up?

Providing Positive Pressure and Support is how school leaders affect the level of implementation. Positive Pressure and Support is made up of three easy pieces:

  • Expect
  • Supervise
  • Support

This is the first in a series of three posts on Positive Pressure and Support, each on one of the three pieces, and this first focusing on setting expectations.

Expect – Start Simple
When MLTI, the country’s first statewide learning with laptop initiative, first got started in 2001, there were still an awful lot of teachers who had not used technology much themselves, let alone used it in the classroom with students. The goal, of course, was to impact learning, but more than a few teachers were a little intimidated by either having to teach differently (especially with a device they weren’t that familiar with), or by having every middle schooler sitting in front of them having a laptop (that the student was probably a lot more comfortable with it than they were!).

But we started seeing good progress in schools where the principal made a simple expectation: Do one unit, between now and Christmas, that involves students using the laptops.

That seemed to take the pressure off of teachers who may have assumed that since laptops were everywhere, they needed to be used all the time. In fact, many of those teachers then did their single unit (perhaps to get it out of the way) and discovered that it wasn’t so bad and started using the laptops pretty regularly.

But without the expectation, reluctant teachers may have continued to put off using all the technology in their classrooms.

Similarly, setting initial expectations for Meaningful Engaged Learning can be as simple as letting teachers know you expect to see greater implementation of the Focus Five strategies. Setting expectations for an iPad initiative can be as simple as letting staff know you’d like to see the iPads used in centers. Expectations for getting started in another initiative might be the following: participate in the offered training; increase the use of higher order thinking strategies in daily lessons and activities; do at least one engaging task with students each week; and do one project in a unit in one class before the end of the next grading period.

But setting expectations (even starting with simple ones) can help overcome the (often understandable) inertia that some teachers may feel at the start of a new initiative.

Expect – Participate Yourself
Another way to set expectations is to participate yourself. Busy leaders sometimes find it hard to take the time to attend trainings. But doing so sends the vital message that you value the training and think it’s important. Participating in the training also means that you know what you can expect your staff to be able to do in their classrooms and can better supervise and support the implementation of those strategies.

I once worked with a school where the principal would announce the professional development then leave. We had a hard time getting staff to an adequate level of implementation, I’m sure in no small part because many staff felt that if the initiative wasn’t important enough for the prinicpal’s time, why should it be important enough for theirs…

Meaningful Engaged Learning goal setting form

Expect – Have Teachers Set Goals
Teachers seem to do better with expectations when they have a voice in setting them. One way to do that is to have teachers set goals. When I have worked with schools using Meaningful Engaged Learning as their School Improvement Program, I have had teachers think about the five components of Meaningful Engaged Learning, and asked them to rate themselves on where they think they are in implementing each component (I have used this form).

I then ask them to think about where they would like to be on implementing each component at the end of some timeframe (the end of the semester, for example). When that time frame is up, we can reflect again on what progress has been made.

This approach sets the expectation that we will get better at each component, while both validating that the teacher may already be good at some of those components (is already meeting that expectation), and giving the teacher a voice in deciding how much energy to put into each component, and which they will focus on the most.

iPad expectations

Expect – Collaboratively Set Expectations
Another way to give teachers voice is to collaborate with them on setting those expectations. That’s what we did in Auburn, as we started Advantage 2014, our math and literacy initiative that includes iPads in Kindergarten. We simply had a conversation. What should our expectations be? In what kinds of activities should we expect to see the iPads used? How often?

The consensus that grew from those discussions became our expectations for the program. This included general guidelines, like apps should correlate to our curriculum, and that iPads are part of of balanced educational program that includes traditional approaches, and included minimum expectations for use, such as using iPads daily in literacy stations, or using iPads for interventions with students.

When collaboratively planning expectations related to implementing new initiatives and strategies, it should be a goal to set specific expectations on those strategies:

  • How many?
  • How often?
  • By when?
  • By whom?

 

These four strategies for setting expecations should help you get started with Positive Pressure and Support. How will you set expectations with your staff? What will those expectations focus on?

 

About Mike Muir

I'm an educator interested in collaborating with other educators on engaging all learners, proficiency-based learning, technology's role in learning, and leadership for school change.
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