Leading an Annual PD Revolution – Part 2

This blog is part of a #pdrevolution series featured on CraftEd’s blog.

Identify something specific about student learning that you want to improve.

As the former Director of School Leadership at New Tech Network (NTN), I sometimes had the privilege of co-facilitating with my friend and colleague, Jim May, Chief Schools Officer at NTN. In one of our sessions designed for school leaders, we focused on the concept of identifying a singular focus for student outcomes improvement. To kick off the session, we started with the following warm-up prompt:

Take 5-10 minutes to write down all of the things you and your staff worked on this past school year – all of the professional development. List as many things as you can remember.

After participants vigorously drafted their lists, we followed up with the question: What did you get better at as a result?

We tended to get blank stares.

Jim is notorious for these gotcha moments. He prides himself on creating experiences that have learners bump into insights. He also often uses the simple quote, “You get better specifically, not generally.” This was the point of the warm-up (if that’s not already clear). He recently told me that this quote is his way of synthesizing what he’s found to be the main point made over and over again in literature around improvement. In my own reading, I’d tend to agree with his paraphrase.


Here’s the deal: Picking something specific about student learning you want to improve is actually a pretty foreign concept in the field of education. As educators, we are multi-taskers. We’re used to wearing many hats. We’re used to working 12-hour days. We’re often wrestling with multiple accountability measures and initiatives coming from multiple layers of the complex education system. Agreeing as a team to commit to a singular improvement focus takes courage and an element of risk. It will likely receive push-back. And the path to improvement is not clean. It will be messy, and the focus will likely evolve as you learn. See this case study of New Tech West in Cleveland, OH for a great example of the messy long-term path to improvement led by someone committed to a singular focus.

My advice: Just pick something, and go for it. There is something special about committing to getting better at getting better. And by focusing on one thing, I believe you’ll get better at many things along the way.

Here are a few examples of a singular focus:

  • Improve students’ ability to use evidence to support claims in their written communication
  • Increase from 5% to 50% the number of students who achieve college math credit within one year of continuous enrollment (from Learning to Improve by Anthony Bryk)
  • Increase the quality of final products through evidence of student work revision over multiple drafts

What does the analysis of your current outcomes, in line with what you care about most, tell you you need to get better at specifically?

Read Part 3 to consider what it looks like to organize yourself and your team around learning in pursuit of the specific thing about student learning you want to improve.


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