Time for New Instructional Priorities? Think Again.
We like to accumulate wins. We need to accumulate wins. The satisfaction of crossing something off of a list, marking it complete, adding it to our professional tool belt is thrilling. And volume seems to be the name of the game in education these days. The more priorities we’ve accomplished, the better we must be, right? And the faster we do it, the stronger we are, right?
Its not uncommon, however, for those same priorities that we have proudly displayed in our Trophy Case of Mastery to crop up again next school year, next month, next week...
It’s also not uncommon for us to veer from the real priorities and hack them into tinier and tinier bits just so we can put something, anything, in our win column, such that our wins have lost any real meaning.
Instructional leadership is rife with opportunities to log false wins and dwell in the illusion of real progress.
We must actively avoid falling into this trap. Here are 3 “Re-”s you should consider before you re-prioritize:
Recommit: You set your instructional priority for a reason. There was some data, observational evidence, analysis, underlying condition, or other factor that led you to publicly state, “This is the thing we need to be great at in our classrooms.”
Recommitting requires you to look long and hard at your efforts to change the underlying conditions that led you to this priority. Do you have definitive evidence that those underlying conditions have fundamentally changed in the direction you wanted — because of your concerted efforts in this area? Important problems don’t solve themselves over time; they require focused, sustained efforts.
If you see indications that the underlying conditions have improved, but you can’t point to specific strides you’ve taken, you’re probably looking at false positives and noise hiding the signal that called to you in the first place. What’s that noise hiding? Is it covering up guilt you’re feeling because of lack of real, intentional efforts? Shame for getting distracted by other things? Are you trying to find a win at all costs just to check something off?
When you find yourself here, acknowledge it — to yourself and your teachers. Restate the priority. Recommit to paying active attention to it. Resist the urge to claim a false win or hack it into a smaller, more winnable bit. You need to attend to this priority, not a different one.
Redouble/Refine: You’re seeing it! Teachers are doing it! It’s working! Wait… You saw it, a teacher did it, it didn’t not work…on that one walk-through you did. This is not a win; it’s getting a base hit in the top of the first inning. There’s a long way to go before this can be considered a win on this instructional priority and our urge to check it off and move on is strong.
Take stock in your progress and stay the course, even amplify your efforts or make some midstream adjustments to your approach. Where have you seen success? Has that success been prolonged or one-off? Who has it not worked for? Specific teachers? Specific kids? Specific circumstances?
This is the trickiest position where the re-prioritization urge is strongest, but what needs to happen here is significant analysis, active monitoring, and broader accumulation of little victories through more and more precise efforts on your part. If you move on when you find yourself here, you are setting yourself up for frustration when your next walk-through shows a regression in this area. Redouble your efforts; they’re starting to work.
Reinforce: Now you’re really seeing it! For real. Other people are seeing it too. It’s not just when you walk into the classroom, but you’ve got valid evidence that your instructional priority is living and breathing without your constant, personal oversight. It’s taking root in your school and moving from “what we’re working on” to “what we do.”
Is it possible to move on now? Layer in an additional priority? Maybe — but what you really need to do to move this priority from instructional adolescence to adulthood is nurture and reinforce it.
Your efforts need to change considerably but the priority remains the same. Share success stories. Praise innovation. Highlight the impact of teachers’ improvements in the priority area on the underlying data and conditions that led you to prioritize it in the first place. You’re no longer looking for flaws in execution but for shining stars in outcomes.
If you fail to reinforce your instructional priority once you reach this stage — and move along to a new priority — you will find yourself frustrated next year when half of your teachers have reverted to old ways. Hey, at least you have a pre-made strategy that you can re-use that you know works, right?
Instructional wins are slow to truly reveal themselves. Yes, there are an enormous amount of little victories along the way (think of all of the base hits the World Series Champions have throughout all 1,458 innings of regular season baseball!), but the trophy doesn’t get added to the case until much later. Recommit, redouble/refine, and reinforce before you re-prioritize your instructional efforts.