We call them Success Stories--interviews turned into stories of how states, districts, schools, and the people within them use Indistar to change and improve how they work. Through them, we have discovered patterns of persistence--big schools and small ones who aim to do the right thing in the best way every single day. They do it to improve teaching and learning for every student. And we know that doing the right thing in the best way is not easy. Yes, these are stories of success, but not in an attainment kind of way. It's one thing to attain change and improvement, it's a whole other thing to sustain it. The success of these stories exists in the persistence of people in schools to practice a new way over and over again until it becomes THE way and to ignite in others the will and ability to do the right thing in the best way. 

Last week, I shared some practices that attaining and sustaining Leadership Teams do over and over again. This week, I want to share some of the structures and processes that they have put into place that have helped to ignite that will and ability in others and, in turn, sustain the improvement they are making. (To paraphrase one interviewee: It should not matter who comes and goes in our school if we have established structures, processes, and expectations for how we operate).

We will be sharing these stories in their entirety on IndistarConnect soon, but we just can't wait to share bits and pieces that might help you in your work today.

Not Just A Leadership Team Thing: Instructional Teams Provide Input Into the Development of Tasks

Claire Pence is a site-based school improvement coach in Cedarville, Arkansas. Ms. Pence has some advice for the task phase of Indistar. 1) Read the Wise Ways research again and again to really understand what the indicator means and what it says must happen; 2) Write tasks in the form of SMART goals—make sure they are very Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Relevant, and Time-sensitive.

The Leadership Team took on the responsibility of assessing indicators and creating tasks, but they didn’t have the final say. The teaming structure in Cedarville High School includes weekly Leadership Team meetings and weekly Content Team meetings; every other week, Grade-Level Teams meet. When tasks are created, a Leadership Team representative shares them with the Content Teams, which give feedback to improve the tasks. This practice accomplishes a few things: a) it strengthens the tasks and their attainability; b) it ensures the proper sequencing of tasks and activities (including addition of tasks that might have been overlooked); c) it creates buy-in and ownership among the entire school; d) it gets everyone on the same page, speaking the same language. The tasks, says Claire, from building them to carrying them out, is where the change happens.

Meetings Matter: This Team Meets Every Week and Doesn't End Until They've Specified What's Needed Next To Help Kids Succeed

Richard Greer, K-12 math coach and Leadership Team member in Augusta, Arkansas says, “Using Indistar was overwhelming at first. It seemed there were all of these areas we needed to attack and it was tough to know where to start.”

They started by meeting every Thursday morning as a Leadership Team.

“When we first started meeting, an hour was all the team could do,” said Pam Clark, Arkansas Department of Education school Improvement specialist and coach. “Now, it is common for us to meet through lunch, into the early afternoon—four or five hours. We do not stop until we have done what we need to do to be successful. We celebrate. We look at math data, literacy data. We talk about individual students. We examine Wise Ways. We build plans and we think through how best to implement them. ”

Mr. Greer credits Ms. Clark with making the work manageable for them early on. “Our coach would pull a group of indicators to focus on each week. We would review the research, talk about what the indicator looked like, where we found it in our classrooms, plan for it, and know what we needed to do to fully implement it.”

Richard said that establishing a process for understanding the indicators and building the structures and plans for their implementation was foundational. “Once we got the process moving, we were much more successful adding in more indicators rather than trying to do everything at once.”

Good Enough Is Not Enough

Part of that process in Augusta, Arkansas involved practicing over and over again as a team to use the Wise Ways research to understand exactly what high achieving schools do. The Leadership Team considered every single detail—from how to determine where the practice might already exist in their schools to what needs to happen so that it exists everywhere all the time. Over time, their persistence through this hard work, doing the same thing every week, taught them to function and operate collaboratively, candidly as a team.  

“It wasn’t always like this, our culture of trust and honesty. We have struggled together every week, sometimes every day, through some tough realizations and difficult decisions, but always in the best interest of our students. We don’t come together just when it’s time for Indistar; we plan everything together now. We use each other to bounce ideas off of and get feedback for everything. We don’t take it personally when a colleague challenges us. We know that it is all about academic achievement and making sure that we are not just doing good enough—but that we are fully implementing indicators in every classroom in the best possible way for our kids,” explains Mr. Greer.

Call to Action:

What structures do your teams have in place to achieve and sustain success? 

How do accommodate instructional teaming in your school? What did you have to change to make it happen?

How do you determine what your Leadership Team meeting will focus on?

Did you read anything about these schools that makes you think you could do something differently? What?

What would you like to know more about as a result of reading this article?

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