Monday, December 3, 2012

A chance to work systemically . . .

There are three very significant issues in our short term future that have the capacity to influence our Classroom 10 journey and change the culture of our school system.  The first is our need to increase capacity to house students; we are already overcrowded and enrollment continues to increase.  The other two are mandates from the state; preparing young people for Common Core assessments beginning in 2015 and implementing the mandated teacher evaluation model, the TPEP process that I last blogged about here.

In this post I will share some of my thinking on the TPEP implementation.  We had our first meeting last week with TEA to begin conversations on the components that are mandatory for bargaining.  We learned that there is a growing concern shared by our principals and teachers on the intent of the model and the capacity of the system, with our very large buildings, to identify and put in place structures that result in successfully meeting the intent.

As with most groups struggling with a difficult issue, there was a tendency to move right to problem solving and  identifying new structures.  Unfortunately, this strategy often ends with structures, "fixes", that don't result in meeting the long term needs of the system.  In this particular case, the issue is made more difficult due to  lack of clear direction from OSPI about significant parts of the process.  It is truly a moving target.  There are some school systems that are further than we are in the process because they were in a pilot program, but the real difficult decisions around components like using student achievement data I don't believe have been completed by any of the pilot districts.  To take advantage of work in the pilot districts, our system has joined with others to begin the next phase in January.

Something happened, however, part way through our meeting that shifted the conversation.  A question was asked and initially ignored that was powerful and moved us to think more about our mental models rather than proposing and debating options.  My paraphrase of the question is below.
  • How can implementing this model become another tool to support our Classroom 10 initiative and the collaborative culture we are creating in our school system?
This became the welcome focus of our conversation that brings with it the opportunity to view this mandate systemically with the intent to integrate it into our initiatives and further develop our capacity to work collaboratively.  I will be proposing that we support this effort by asking a team to first engage in conversations with system tools that allow for identifying the mental models that are necessary to achieve a shared vision for the work, for arriving at a common understanding of our current reality, and then identifying the structures that are necessary to reduce the gap between our current reality and the shared vision.  I am pleased that there were those in the room seeing the need to shift from problem solving to first creating a deeper understanding and I am energized by the opportunity we have to think and work more systemically.

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