Is This How YOU Understand Improvement?

This post originally appeared on March 10, 2015.

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We understate the potential of Indistar by describing it as a tool or a system for planning improvement.

It is that, sure. But it’s not JUST that. It also, has the potential to create a rhythm for what happens in a school—how people move individually and together, how they engage, interact, behave, how strengths and weaknesses are modulated and regulated, how events and activities ebb and flow, how expectations, structures, processes, are refined and repeated and continuously elevated. How learning improves and cultures change. Completely.

A couple of years ago, Sam Redding (Indistar visionary and creator) and I co-authored a short paper on the work of Indistar—what it requires (teams), how it works (great), what it can do for schools (teams, teachers, families, students), what it requires the people in the school community to do for kids. I’ve extracted and adapted a few highlights and organized them into smaller points. 

Find the paper in its entirety attached below.

 1.     Indistar—and the ultimate goal of every student succeeding--depends on teams of people.            

 Think of a time you earned something. Really earned it. Succeeded. Chances are you didn’t will success; you worked hard at it. You focused your time (more in some areas than in others) and your effort (a little more here, a lot more there). You showed up early and went home late because you had a strong conviction for making it happen. You got the people around you involved and even a bit excited. They showed you a way you hadn’t thought of; you showed them that their way mattered.

Success in districts and schools works the same way. Students learn more (and better) when people in the school focus their time and effort on elevating their specific teaching, leading, connecting, and learning skills. They work hard at it. Consistently. Habitually. They get others involved and excited to do the same. Soon they are not just people in a school. They are the team of the school. Maybe the Leadership Team directs the action but the Instructional Teams execute it--and probably even suggest ways to improve it. The whole school becomes a team and the performance of every player counts.

 2.     No excuses: Indistar lays out what adults must do to help children succeed.

Indistar is premised on the understanding that districts and schools improve and succeed when three things are present and balanced:

  • specific expectations for professional practice;
  • personal investment and engagement to improve the school (i.e. student learning);
  • a climate of candor and trust.

Candor means unadorned honesty in examining the professional practice of everyone with the only aim to provide the right supports that will help them improve and achieve the best results for students.

Indistar has simplified and organized the research, translated it into clear statements of effective professional practice (skills), and built a platform where school and district teams can prioritize the skills (what will have the greatest impact immediately), create action steps for making them happen (who will do what and when), and communicate progress around them (here’s what’s working, here’s where we need to do better). It doesn’t do the work of district or school improvement for you, but Indistar makes it easier for you prioritize the work, communicate it, and stay on top of it. Considering the amount of distractions that creep up in a school day (okay, a school hour) that kind of support is critical.

 3.     Indistar was not named after an actual star, but its specificity and organization are really quite brilliant.

Indistar is built upon a specific set of practices or skills that people must apply diligently to successfully improve the school. They are called indicators of effective practice (note the indi in Indistar). An indicator of effective practice is a concrete, behavioral expression of a professional practice that contributes to student learning, supported by research. It is expressed in plain language so that a school team can answer easily and with certainty whether it is present or not present. The less gray area the better.

Likened to the concept of “drilling down”—moving through a hierarchy of information from the top, downwards into levels of greater detail—indicators of effective practice are the deep, specific expressions of effective practice. They are what effective practice “looks like.”

But we can (and should) dig even deeper (which Indistar does): if we are to sharpen our skills and improve, we need indicators of effective practice that “show” what the alignment looks like and how it is achieved. We need specifics.

For example, Instructional Teams develop standardsaligned units of instruction for each subject and grade level would be one indication that teachers are engaged in effective alignment. Other indicators include: Units of instruction include standards-based objectives and criteria for mastery. And Objectives are leveled to target learning to each student’s demonstrated prior mastery based on multiple points of data (i.e., unit tests and student work).

Of course, other effective practices and their indicators would provide guidance for Instructional Teams and the nature of their work. The relationships among teams, practices, and indicators are important; some are building blocks for others. Specificity matters. The interrelationship of effective practices and their indicators matters. Ensuring that everyone (everyone) routinely exercises the practice matters.

 4.     Indistar Provides A Collaborative Platform for Improving Professional Skills + Performance (think performance management).

The Indistar system guides school or district Leadership Teams in making an informed assessment of very specific, detailed indicators of effective practice and their current level of implementation: 1. Do we have the skills? 2. Do we demonstrate the ability to execute the skills? 3. Do we execute them routinely? 4. Do we execute them flawlessly?

The Leadership Team’s assessment process within Indistar is informed by links to briefs of the underlying research (Wise Ways) and examples of implementation. Web-based modules, Indicators in Action, provide real-life video demonstration of the indicators by school leaders, teacher teams, teachers, and parent leaders.

The Indistar system links the school, district, and state, so that coaches can review the work of the team and provide on-going and regular support. Reports on plans, activities, and progress are generated by district and school teams and submitted electronically to the state, replacing previously required paper plans. Because the system utilizes a continuous improvement process, the plans span annual reporting dates and remain in effect until the team provides evidence of full implementation of the indicators. Over time, the cycle is repeated to ensure that practices have become school-wide, routine, and consistent/flawless.

 5.     Indistar primes the path for success and innovation.

Indistar guides the improvement process, keeps it moving, and focuses the teams on specific areas to improve so that their time can be spent assembling the solutions, innovating the approaches.

While indicators of effective practice are necessary and useful, the real change happens (and sticks) when the people, the teams, have clarity of purpose (why are we here, what will we achieve) and understand the unique contributions they bring to the work (what is my value, how can I provide it better).

Indistar provides the research and the specific practices to improve performance but it leaves it up to you to decide HOW to do it. Understanding what effective practice looks like is one thing; giving people the flexibility to determine how they will apply the practice or develop the skill and achieve success breeds innovation, builds trust, and ignites enthusiasm in others. Soon you have a tipping point of improved performance, innovative mindsets, and increased student learning. 

Putting It All Together

Indistar has taken the best of research and turned it into simple, actionable language that people can understand and implement. It is web-based, so teams can input, track, and monitor progress in real-time. It is efficient, allowing schools and districts to design and submit relevant and useful reports specific to their needs and to those whom they are accountable. It is humble, populated with the teaching, leading, and learning skills (the what) that have proven time and time again to improve performance, but taking a backseat to the creativity, ingenuity, and experience of the educators who will implement them (the how).

Indistar is useful for all of these reasons (and so many more that you will discover as you use it with greater candor, trust, and high expectation). But Indistar works because of the people, the teams, who work hard at examining their individual and collective practice so that students can learn more (and better); who focus their time (more in some areas than in others) and their effort (a little more here, a lot more there) to perfect their skills and help students perfect theirs. Indistar works because of the people, the teams, who start early and end late because they have a new idea or a problem to solve and a strong conviction for getting it right.

Call to Action

Do you have something to add or share about Indistar and how it works for you? Please leave a comment below or add a post to Your Reflections

Additional Resources:

Download the full paper here, Indistar: A Different Kind of Work

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For You.

You are busy, the world is big, and the amount of information in it is bigger. So we thought we would create a place where you can find useful, relevant, and interesting information that is also relevant to your work and the indicators of effective practice you have come to know and love. One place.

Use the information for your own personal development, even better, use it with your team!