7 Thoughts on School Improvement Plans #satchat (Steve Guditus @sguditus)

Today's #satchat, as usual, has left me feeling inspired and motivated.  Folks from around Massachusetts, the nation and world chimed into a fantastic conversation about sometimes-dry School Improvement Plans (SIPs).  Co-faciltiated by @bcurrie5, @ScottRRocco and @billsterrett, a few main lessons emerged for me:

  1. Create a unified vision.  Provide tight-loose leadership to provide vision and structure, and then allow folks to do their best work.  Encourage all constituencies to revisit a school's vision and SIP - if it is clear and unified enough, it will be easily accessible and relatable to all we do in our school.
  2. Administrators cannot just talk the talk - they must be ready, willing and able to walk the walk.  SIPs can easily become an exercise in jargon, acronyms and only philosophy.  For staff, students and parents to be inspired to work outside their comfort zone, try something new, and reach for goals, leaders must be ready to not just say it, but live it themselves.  It is unfair and unrealistic to expect students, staff and parents to work towards something new if leaders are not willing to do the same in their everyday actions and words.  Administrators must model what they hope to see.
  3. Actively recruit and engage all constituencies into the conversation - teachers, parents, students, community members.  Engaging folks from various levels of the community is essential, and they may not just show up on your doorstep.  You may need to plant seeds, develop relationships and encourage conversation - but it is worth the authentic engagement.
  4. Technology can be key to leveraging engagement and participation.  Consider using Google Docs or wikis to carry on conversations without formal meetings.  Edmodo, Twitter, Facebook and other backchannels can encourage input and conversation from folks not normally involved.  Consider flipping the SIP process - plant the seeds of ideas and conversations using You Tube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media, and hold the rich conversation with folks when you have a captive audience at open house nights, concerts, etc.
  5. Trust is key.  Without trust, open and honest conversations will not occur, and SIPs will miss the mark or not be an authentic reflection of a school's true needs and a community's true goals.
  6. Develop a culture of lifelong learning.  This will not happen overnight.  It takes time to model lifelong learning, develop teacher leaders to encourage others, and develop lifelong learning as a priority in the community.  As schools, we hope to educate our students to be lifelong learners who are always questioning, inquisitive and exploring - and encouraging and supporting this same characteristic in the adults in our school community (teachers, community members, parents) must be a priority.  Doing so will encourage reflection, goal-setting and a culture of constant improvement.
  7. Students must be front and center.  Any and all conversation should come back to the question, "Is this what is best for our students and student learning?"  Ultimately, this must be at the forefront of all that we do - in our conversation, our goals, and our reflection on SIPs.

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