Superintendent Rob Stein: 2018 Visioning Process
We value your voice and need your participation in our upcoming visioning process. As a public school district, our schools belong to our community, and our community gives us our direction. In early November, the Roaring Fork Schools are launching a visioning process to learn about your hopes for your children and the qualities you want to see in our schools.
This community visioning process builds on work we have been doing over the past five years. In 2013, we engaged 1,400 parents, teachers, and students in a year-long dialogue about their aspirations for our students and how we should achieve them. The community told us they want their students to meet high academic standards, develop character and life skills, and be critical thinkers, collaborators, and contributors to their communities. Drawing from the community’s great ideas, the school district developed guiding documents: a new mission, a set of community commitments for our children and our schools, and a comprehensive strategic plan to get results for all of our students.
Most of our work since then has been designed to achieve three simple results--that all of our students will: graduate with the knowledge, skills, and character to prepare them for future learning and work; develop the ability to complete authentic projects that allow them to pursue their own interests and be self-directed in their learning; and receive whatever kinds of support they need to meet benchmarks from preschool through high school.
With those ends in mind, the school district has invested deeply in teaching and learning. We articulated a model for best instructional practices in every classroom, revised graduation requirements so that they align with 21st century needs, increased and enhanced professional learning for all teachers, and, knowing that the best experts are already in our midst, incorporated more teacher voice into decision-making in every school. In an effort to retain talent in our schools, we worked with teams of teachers to revise our compensation package to make it more equitable and competitive, and we invested in staff housing so that our teachers could afford to live in our expensive valley.
With students, we have worked hard to increase their sense of belonging and engagement in school and to provide differentiated supports, knowing that students learn differently and need different kinds of help. Programs that were not in place five years ago include a coherent, district-wide approach to supporting emerging bilingual students in acquiring English language skills and a certificate of biliteracy to celebrate students who graduate with competency in two languages. All students are now part of what we call “crew,” a dedicated time in the day to focus on the development of character skills, social-emotional learning, and academic goal-setting. Crews allow each student to develop a relationship with an adult crew leader at the school, as well as a consistent and ongoing small-scale peer community. At the end of their high school careers, all students now complete capstone projects, as a way for them to pursue their own interests and demonstrate readiness for independent work and study after graduation.
These examples only begin to account for the many measures of progress we have achieved since the community last gave us direction. And while we have made progress on so many fronts, we are aware of areas where we have more work to do. We know, for example, that many children lack access to early childhood education and vital wraparound services such as health and dental care. We want to be even more responsive to our students and parents and to more deeply engage them in the decision-making process in our schools. In November, we hope you’ll help us understand how you want to engage with our schools.
Therefore, we now want to check if we’re on course and hear where you would like to see us go next. We want to make sure that we are still working on the right things and identify any areas where the community would like us to shift our attention and efforts.
We will be hosting an evening meeting in each community over the week of November 5. To make sure that everyone can participate, we will be conducting meetings in both English and Spanish and providing food and childcare. If one of these meeting times does not work for your schedule and you are part of a group or community organization that would like to schedule a different meeting time, we can arrange that as well.
Please participate by attending a community visioning meeting and lending your voice to inform our direction going forward.
Superintendent Rob Stein: Summer 2018
The Power of Believing in Collective Success
Schools have a lot to learn from other sectors. One idea from developing safe neighborhoods in the 1970s has promising implications for education today. Certain kinds of neighborhoods, those with a strong sense of “collective efficacy,” have been shown to have great reductions in crime and other improvements.
Collective efficacy, the shared belief in the collective ability to organize and take action for the common good, relies on social cohesion. Neighborhoods with strong bonds--long-term residents, close relationships, extended families, sense of identity to the place--and where residents are willing to intervene to create the conditions they desire, tend to be cleaner, safer, and better functioning. Collective efficacy has been proven to change neighborhoods, increase team success, and influence student outcomes in schools.
In a school setting, collective efficacy starts with a few fundamental principles. First is educators’ belief that they are, in fact, responsible for students’ learning. Study after study shows the power of self-fulfilling prophecies: When we believe that our students can learn, they learn. The research shows a significant effect size of three to ten times greater student outcomes when teachers believe they are capable of helping their students succeed compared to other variables, including teacher-student ratios, which reading or math program we select, or how much homework we assign. Unfortunately, collective efficacy works both ways. As a society, we have work to do to overcome our biases so that we never count a student out.
Second is a willingness to let teachers participate in school- and district-wide decision-making. This is tough for many leaders and policymakers because, well, aren’t we supposed to be the ones making the decisions? Teacher efficacy requires that leaders let go of their own solutions and trust the practitioners to come up with the answers.
Third, however, is educators’ shared commitment to common goals, norms, and measures. Teachers have to be willing to surrender the “me” of classroom freedom and autonomy for the “we” of common goals and assessments. Collective efficacy requires teachers to be willing to teach to a common assessment--not to the state tests, but to school- or district-adopted assessments--so that results can be studied and compared, and promising outcomes can be replicated in other classrooms and teams. Teachers and principals have to know what each other is doing, see what results each other is getting, and be willing to share and adapt to what is working. The social unit of organization for collective efficacy isn’t the rugged individual but the team.
All of this takes enormous trust: that educators have the capacity and, ultimately, the will to get the results they want to attain; that leaders not to be punitive with data or when schools don’t get the results we were hoping for; and that we can appear vulnerable, ignorant, and ineffective to one another as we experience frequent setbacks and false starts on the road of continuous improvement. Schools need the social bonds of close neighborhoods where we’re all in it together if we are going to be more efficacious.
How does this look in Roaring Fork schools? Principals receive professional development around teacher involvement in school strategic planning and using building leadership teams for teacher-led decision-making. Teacher-led teams determine what curriculum will be used across the school district in middle-school math. Elementary reading teachers establish common goals and daily pacing guides, administer common assessments, and agree upon which instructional practices to use in their classrooms. Teams of teachers in a middle school look together at common outcomes and decide how they can collectively do better. We are already doing a lot of good work to build collective efficacy in our school community.
Given the magnitude of the impact of collective efficacy, why don’t we do more of it? Because it’s hard--it takes time, effort, and a willingness to fail many times on the way to success. Because we can’t control it--we have to give autonomy to teams of teachers rather than giving them scripts or off-the-shelf remedies to follow. Because it gives authority to educators as opposed to policymakers or school board members who are elected as the deciders. Collective efficacy requires a commitment to shared norms, shared actions, and shared responsibility.
Of course, moving toward collective efficacy is a process, and it doesn’t happen all at once. It starts in neighborhoods and spreads where conditions allow. It isn’t a quick fix, but a long-term strategy for continuous improvement. As a community, we still have work to do to help build collective efficacy in our neighborhoods and schools--to inspire our collective belief in the possibility of all children succeeding--so that all of our children have a real opportunity to thrive.