Sunday, October 25, 2015

100% Can and Should Be the Goal

Education in the US has undergone tremendous changes in the last 5 years.  Two significant ones are the greater accountability for teachers for student learning and the implementation of Common Core.  Having been a high school administrator for the last 15 years and high school principal for the last 9 prior to this year, I have led and been involved in a number of discussions on these changes.

One common theme in the discussion to some of this educational reform from educators is that we should not be expected to adopt a business model because we are educators.  Some educators have felt that accountability is fine for businesses who can seemingly control their factors, but we should not be expected to adopt such rigorous reform that includes accountability standards for teachers, administrators, buildings and districts.

As a 30-year public educator, both as a high school and middle school teacher and as a high school administrator, I certainly understand some of the concerns, including educators being held accountable for assessments for which the state government has provided little time or support for administration and that teachers have never seen.

It is difficult to prepare students for assessments with which educators have very little experience. And these assessments are extremely arduous for special education students and English language learners who are not starting on an even playing field.  We certainly need to re-look at the graduation requirements for these students and mandated expectations.

But I also believe that we are responsible for a lack of establishing our own accountability for student learning for much of my career.  For too long, schools and teachers taught what they liked to teach with little or no focus or accountability to student learning.

I also believe that our educational systems have been plagued by low standards and expectations of our work, and that we should adopt much more rigorous expectations and goals, just as other professionals have for years.

The business world's ability to align staff and whole organizations to very high standards and a common mission and vision is what  educators and schools can and should emulate.  Our students deserve it, just as consumers of business organizations deserve it. A life-changing event in our family illustrates our appreciation for an organization with extremely high expectations for its consumers-- patients.

Almost two years ago my husband suffered a debilitating medical condition, a detached retina.  He had suffered no injury and had no precursors or warning.  One morning he woke up and an hour later his retina detached in his right eye.

Twenty-four hours later we were in emergency surgery which ended with a daunting post-surgery regimen.  He had to keep his head down for 24 hours a day for two straight weeks.  After the surgeon reattaches the retina, he inserts a gas bubble into the eye.  Staying face down causes the gas bubble to rise and floating on the back of the eye, rubs and helps heal the attached retina.  And we thought educators' jobs required high expertise. My husband is the runner, biker, skiier-type and an automotive crash research engineer.  Our lives as planned came to a stop.  He could not work, drive or do any normal activities.

Photo courtesy Idea go, free digital photos

As a high school principal I continued to work, meshed with putting three drops in his eyes before work, coming home to prepare his lunch and three more eye drops, and then home for dinner and more eye drops.  It was difficult to see him face down while trying to pass the time, even while sleeping.  I would come and go to various school events and return to him, still face down.  He was a good patient and followed all of the post-surgical regimen.

After these long two weeks, we returned to the surgeon, hopeful to hear him say that his eye was healed and our lives could return to normal.  As the surgeon peered into the eye we waited for what we hoped would be positive feedback.  Silence.

Then he hesitatingly stated that he was concerned about fluid in the eye and he wanted to watch it for two days as it could indicate there was still a hole in the retina.  After two lengthy days we returned and, alas, there was too much fluid and indeed, either a new hole had developed or the first surgery had not found this hole.

This news was devastating, as the surgeon had explained at our first surgery that while first detached retina surgeries are often successful, each failure leads to a more invasive surgery with more negative results for vision.  Retinas that are unable to be attached lead to blindness in that eye, a life-changer.

And then, the surgeon uttered these words that  us hope.  He told us that at his retinal surgery group, their goal was 100% re-attachments, and that he intended to reach that goal with us. The second surgery would be more difficult, and vision may be more compromised, but he intended to attach the retina.

My husband underwent the surgery, missed eight weeks of work, but has an attached retina in his eye. We appreciated we were part of the group which had 100% of successful surgeries as a goal.

I often now use this example in my presentations to educators, now as an educational consultant/presenter and a retired high school principal.  What if every teacher set a goal for every one of his or her students that 100% of them would be successful?  What if every school set that goal for every student, and more importantly worked toward it every day and communicated it with every student and parent?

Would every teacher instruct differently?  Would every school respond differently?  The answer is yes.

Photo courtesy Stuart Miles, free digital photos

I  know that some educators, both teachers and administrators, feel that 100% is an unrealistic goal. That we have too many students with external issues.  Is every patient the same?  Do surgeons have perfect and healthy patients or those with diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure that makes them more difficult to heal, whatever the ailment?

What if my husband's automotive crash research facility had less than a 100% goal for crash test safety?  Do you want the surgeon with less than a 100% success goal?  Do we want to eat at a restaurant with less that a 100% sanitation/safety goal?

Graphic courtesy of Jayme Linton via Twitter

Certainly some students are more challenging than others, but schools with effective pyramid of interventions can respond more appropriately, just as physicians respond individually to patients. High schools can be caring cultures and climates with dedication to 100% of students' success.  How? Through professional learning community work and alignment of all key stakeholders to a focus on learning.

Our school is a Professional Learning Community that focuses every day on learning, aligning every practice and aspect to a goal of 100% learning for every student every day with every teacher every class period. Every staff member focuses on the four questions of PLC work collaboratively in same-subject teams.  It has transformed our school into a true learning community, and high expectations yield high results.

In trying to attain perfection, we achieve excellence. Put simply, you hit what you aim for, so aim high.  And it has brought us success in a number of external indicators-- National Blue Ribbon School, National Model PLC at Work School, #88 in Newsweek rankings of America's Best High School, and outscoring Shanghai, the highest performing school system in the world, in reading, math and science on the PISA, the international assessment that ranks the world's best schools.

 If you are satisfied with a goal of 85% of student success, or a 77% goal, or a 95% goal, ask yourself if that would be good enough if you were choosing a pediatric surgeon or oncologist.  The answer would be no, for the failure rate is a life-changer, particularly if it is you, or your child.

Now picture your child in a classroom.  What would be an acceptable student success percentage that you would want his/her teacher to set?

Photo courtesy JSCreations, free digital photos

You see, that is the "why," the most important question that separates high-performing schools from average ones.  Shoot high, for if you fall short, you will have still achieved greater than your goal. Do we attain 100%?  Not necessarily, but do we exist in order to work towards 100% to change students' lives every day?  Yes.  And that is the growth mindset that is and will be the difference in education.

Graphic courtesy of Twitter