By Stoney M. Beavers, Ph.D.
Alabama Best Practices Center
This summer the Alabama Best Practices Center has been busy planning a great year of professional development for participants in our statewide educator learning communities.
As part of our work, we’re drawing on the wisdom and expertise of other educational leaders around the state to create a design for learning that will help us all move forward in the coming year.
We’ve listened closely to veteran participants in both Key Leaders Network (KLN) and the Powerful Conversations Network (PCN) and selected guiding texts we’re confident will resonate with the work already going on in districts – supporting teachers and administrators at every level as they continue to lead, grow and excel in our schools and classrooms.
In a recent post, I spotlighted our PCN guiding text for this year – Robert Marzano’s expanded edition of The New Art and Science of Teaching. This week I’m highlighting this year’s KLN focus book, Leading a High-Reliability School, by Marzano and three colleagues: Philip B. Warrick, Cameron L. Rains, and the late Richard DuFour.
“Leading a High Reliability School is a powerful and innovative new tool for instructional leaders. It is well grounded in relevant theory and high-quality research. But the book’s real treasure is the wealth of guidance and practical, actionable steps leaders can take to improve the quality of classroom instruction and make a measurable and substantial difference in student learning.”
— Keith Gurley, associate professor of education leadership, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Our Old Friends Validity and Reliability
For all of us who’ve had the pleasure of studying Research & Statistics, the concepts of validity and reliability are pretty familiar as they relate to assessments. When put into the context of a school or district, however, they take on new meaning.
As we know, validity is the basic idea of “soundness.” Marzano, Warrick, and their colleagues specifically address reliability as a process or framework to ensure that schools and districts can reliably make progress toward continuous improvement, regardless of current contexts or changes in leadership.
The authors’ work pulls from the research on High Reliability Organizations (HROs) and applies this business model to the context of schools and districts. Before exploring the framework further, the authors begin by presenting Rick DuFour’s beautiful opus on “The Primacy of the PLC Process,” a key element in their conceptual approach.
The Importance of the PLC Process ‘Done Right’
I would challenge any school with Professional Learning Communities in place to read Richard DuFour’s introduction to Leading a High Reliability School closely. In this section, DuFour so clearly lays out the essential elements of effective PLCs as well as their importance for high reliability work.
The subheading for the chapter is “The Primacy of the PLC Process,” and that is exactly what we discover as we read. Unless schools have genuine, highly functioning PLCs in place, they are unlikely to become high reliability schools. DuFour reshares the four critical questions for teams and schools working in a collaborative culture:
►What is it we want students to learn?
►How will we know if students are learning?
►How will we respond when students don’t learn?
►How will we extend learning for students who are highly proficient?
Marzano and his colleagues add two additional questions:
►How will we increase our instructional competence?
►How will we coordinate our efforts as a school?
It is these last two questions that ground the work of high reliability schools. Are there systems in place to help teachers grow their instructional practices? Is everyone in the school working cohesively and coherently toward the same goal to increase student well-being and achievement?
DuFour’s introduction is a perfect tool for self reflection for any leader who wants to reconsider their impact and ensure that their teams are functioning effectively and mining all the value associated with collective efficacy.
Equity and Excellence: An Essential Question
“Can we be equal and excellent too?” (Gardner, 1961) This question bookends Leading a High Reliability School, and it seems to me that it should be at the heart of our learning this year. Can we work toward greater equity and also toward excellence? The authors offer a framework that makes this work achievable. We look forward to learning what our KLN participants are doing in their schools and districts and how they are addressing questions like this one in their daily work.
Our design team members have grappled with the complexities of leading a high reliability school over several days and have captured a variety of entry points that will help us plan effective professional learning and differentiate for each KLN team’s needs.
What We’ve Learned from Our Design Team
We are excited to continue building on the high reliability schools work of the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative (AMSTI), A+ College Ready, and our Regional Inservice Centers.
To ensure we’re connecting with the reality of our members during this time, we recruited several outstanding educators to help us in thinking about the design of our learning for this year. Design team members were so gracious with their time and really helped us reflect on what educators need now when it comes to professional learning. We know that all of our partners are working hard, and as our authors point out in their book, it’s vital that we’re all working on the “right work.”
To help with this focus, Marzano and his colleagues have targeted twenty-five leading indicators based on their own research as well as the highest-ranking variables from John Hattie. These indicators are organized into five levels:
These levels house much of the collective work we have all been doing in ABPC networks over the past several years to improve teaching and learning. This year our Key Leaders Network community will build on what we have all accomplished together.
We are looking forward to diving deeper with our team members into the research and strategies for addressing these high reliability indicators, always keeping in mind your specific contexts. By networking and learning collaboratively, we can support each other, our colleagues in our schools and districts, and most of all our students – who expect the best from us.
Sign up for Key Leaders 2021-2022
If you’re interested in learning more about participating in the Key Leaders Network, contact me, Cathy, or Dakota. You’ll be joining your professional colleagues serving on the front lines of school change in an amazing year of study, conversation and action planning.
Dr. Stoney M. Beavers is Assistant Director of the Alabama Best Practices Center. He has been an award-winning teacher, a Director of Secondary Curriculum, and was Assistant Superintendent in Blount County (AL) for more than a decade.
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