Friday, June 2, 2017

Growth Takes a Vision

My wife is an enthusiastic gardener. I am happily her helper! Each year, in April, the plans she has
cultivated in her head start springing into action at our house. The pots are placed, the garden is tilled, seeds move from their position on the map to their position in the ground. And things start to grow. And once they begin to grow, the whole family gets excited and eagerly joins in the process of garden. But, gardens don't grow without the vision of a gardener.

 That formula for growth carries into our schools and classrooms! Each of us has an opportunity each year to foster growth of some kind. For leaders that growth might be watching a specific practice take shape in learning spaces across the building. For educators, that may be honing a skill, perfecting a practice, or developing a mindset that will positively impact learners.

A Team with a Vision

One example of growth that stemmed from setting a clear vision is work happening at Horning Middle School this year. (I am highlighting Horning because it is a school I am closely connected with; I know that there are many similar examples across the district.)

Horning saw a change in leadership this year. For many schools surviving that level of change and coming out the other end of the school year would be growth enough. However, in addition to that, through the SAIL process Horning identified several key high leverage practices. I'll highlight one of those: a focus on Blackboard (our learning management system in Waukesha).

The SAIL team identified in their vision that Blackboard was a key tool that will help move other work forward at Horning in the future. Part of the vision for Horning was set. And this was a new direction for Horning, not part of a previous vision. Everything from that point forward centered around that vision. From leadership team discussions and planning meetings to Vanguard conversations and focused professional learning, the vision developed into a plan and clear action steps.

Has it worked? Are we seeing growth? Well, let's take a look at the numbers.

Growth in the Staff Technology Profile Survey Results at Horning

Below is a summary for the District Staff Technology Survey results at Horning. We have given this survey since Fall 2012, allowing us to view change over time. To evaluate results, we look at positive responses of Agree and Strongly Agree, summing those responses. To give us a general temperature on the non-positive responses, we also like to identify what percentage of staff gave the least  positive response possible (Strongly Disagree).

In just one semester of focused professional learning around Blackboard use (in early stages of learning for most staff members), Horning witnessed a 7% gain in positive responses from last spring. Additionally, we saw a drop of 9% in the Strongly Disagree response, meaning perspectives of staff members have shifted. We also know that many professionals in our district have established a preference for using Google Apps for their professional collaboration, so that does skew this data point some.
Staff member's comfort in their ability to post resources to Blackboard grew by 14% since last spring (spring data is typically marked as our growth data for this survey). Just as important, though, is the reduction of Strongly Disagree responses by 18% (from 36% to 18%). This shows a significant shift in the staff's comfort with the tool, and that was the focal point of the professional development plan at Horning around Blackboard.
This data is a surprising data point, but encouraging. The Horning staff is not yet expected to actively use Blackboard with students. Despite this, the hard work the staff is doing in learning to use Blackboard is also impacting their understanding of how Blackboard can favorably enhance instruction for their students. While we did not expect to see this growth, it points to the reality that educators are always making connections between what they know how to use and what those tools can do for the learners.

Vision and Growth Build Enthusiasm

Once those first vegetables start showing up in our garden, suddenly our daughters start becoming eager helpers. Growth builds enthusiasm for those who may not hold the initial vision/passion.

The hard work the Horning staff has done to dig in and learn how to meaningfully use Blackboard has been obvious all semester. The shift in perceptions about Blackboard (highlighted in the data above) is truly palpable when you talk with educators across the building. And that has led to some really thoughtful, deep, and innovative conversations around how the tool could be leveraged to promote learning at Horning. New ideas are popping up thinking about how Blackboard might have a positive impact on students, on families, on PLCs, and even on organizations/clubs. This is evidence that vision and growth help to build enthusiasm and contribute to the momentum that makes meaningful shifts happen. (It is also clear evidence that the staff at Horning is incredibly hard-working and dedicated to their learners.)

Do you have a vision yet for how technology will meaningfully impact your high leverage strategies, building culture, or engagement and opportunities for learners? With the summer SAIL work around the corner, now is the time to start thinking about what that vision is so you can begin planning today to witness the growth you want to see.