Change is all the things: tough, inevitable, great, unnecessary at times, and hard to sustain. Change is both meaningful and worthwhile when it makes something better. Two quotes from George Couros ring loud and true here:
Bill and I are in the throes of planning for a house remodel. This remodel was supposed to be limited to the kitchen, but quickly spilled over to other areas of the house. If we’re changing the floor in the kitchen, it only makes sense to change the floor throughout the house…and if we change the flooring, then we need to change the wall colors… and on and on it goes.
I claim to adjust to change much better than Bill. In truth, I may, at times, resist it as much as he does. I am excited about the remodel, but have much trepidation about tearing into our 26-year-old home that witnessed the beginning years of our marriage, the raising of three boys, and serves as our safe haven. As my mom frequently reminds me, “There is nothing wrong with your house.” And there isn’t. This is a wonderful home that could benefit from some updates. The key to this change is making it meaningful so that we come out the other side of the remodel with something not only different, but better.
System Change in Education
Making change meaningful in education requires much more than just two people agreeing on the details of a house remodel. Change in education may begin with the ideas of one or two people, but in order for it to be meaningful and sustained, an entire system needs to be high-functioning.
This point was driven home beautifully by Todd Collins in Science of Reading: The Podcast, Season 6, Episode 13. Todd Collins is a noneducator-turned school board member-turned literacy activist in California. He recognizes that, “Sustaining meaningful change requires a high-functioning system.”
I wrote about initiatives in the Fort Madison Community School district last week… and in many other past posts. As I reflect on the words of Todd Collins, I recognize that we (like so many other school districts) have pieces of systems that are high functioning, but have much to refine in order to be a truly high-functioning system. It’s a work in progress… and it will happen!
Establishing a high-functioning system is both simple and complex. It involves a narrow focus (simple), commitment by all (complex), tough conversations (complex), celebrations (simple), and mutual accountability (complex). As Todd Collins said, “This is going to bring people out of their comfort zones, but it has to happen for kids.”
Todd Collins also makes the point that, “Teachers aren’t the problem. Teachers are the solution.” I couldn’t agree more. I would add that teachers and administrators can only be the solution when they have the What, the Why, and the How. I know, I know – this is nothing new! Many, much smarter than I, have made this point zillions of times before. Thank you, Natalie Wexler and Rivet Education!
I’ve often lamented the implementation of our literacy curriculum in Fort Madison because we didn’t spend enough time on the Why behind the adoption of the high quality EL Education Curriculum. The What, is “easy”: it is the curriculum. The How is complex: implementing a high quality curriculum with integrity is not easy. We continue to work on the How, but I’m not confident that we have the system in place to establish the Why. As frustrating as it is that we didn’t take the time to establish it before adoption, the Why still needs to be firmly established for all… which requires a robust system.
Establishing that Why involves building knowledge around effective instructional practices. The Reading League‘s Kari Kurto summarized this perfectly in a January webinar: “Knowledge Construction Before Instruction,” as it relates to curriculum adoption. You nailed it, Kari! And that knowledge construction just keeps going and going. We continue to learn, adjust, and implement as new evidence comes in.
Literacy Gains in Mississippi
The state of Mississippi is making major literacy gains because of their system change – not just at the building or district level, but at the state level. They were tired of being at the bottom, so they did something about it, and continue to work at sustaining the needed changes.
Kristen Wynn, Mississippi’s State Literacy Director, knows what it takes to establish meaningful system change. She was a guest at AIM Institute’s 11th Research to Practice Symposium this past week. Among the many factors contributing to Mississippi’s growth, Wynn cites instructional coaching, preparing preservice teachers, establishing the Why, and establishing a continuum of opportunities for teachers to learn.
In Service of ALL Students
There are many things that educators can agree on, amidst the many that we disagree on. If we agree that all students can learn at high levels, we can contribute to the high-functioning system that will get the job done. We can look at what hasn’t worked, double down, and fix it. I bet we can all agree that it ain’t gonna’ be easy.