Imagine you are in charge of implementing a new initiative at your office, work site, or job. You know what you want to accomplish and you know why it is important. All you need to do now is figure out just exactly how you will accomplish this. Or do you?
This year at school we took on two pilot projects in an effort to improve student learning and enhance student engagement. The first project we agreed to was the implementation of a new grading and reporting system. The challenge was to change from a percentage based system (norm-referenced) to a criterion-referenced system. Basically it meant reporting on individual criteria as opposed to reporting on several criteria at once via an averaged mark yielding the traditional bell curve of student marks. I will not go into great detail about the philosophy behind criterion-referenced assessment or how it looks in a school, but if you are interested this article offers a good explanation. The second project was implementing a new music program in our school. The challenge was to teach music in a way that was new to teachers and students. Normally teachers would schedule in music time where all students would learn the same instrument, notes, chords, etc. With this new approach students were allowed to explore music in many different ways using traditional instruments or electronic instruments available to them online or on our iPads. This exploration was to be done in conjunction with other subjects (for example, if you were learning about immigration what do you think the soundtrack of a journey from Germany to Saskatchewan would sound like using only music?).
We introduced these two projects to the staff and were met with questions like, "what is the plan?", "what are we supposed to do?", "where are the guides?", "who is going to teach this stuff?". We did not have any plans, guides, or outlines and as the weeks turned to months it became very clear that the plans were going to be drawn up along the way. This was new for me, I always felt the path needed to be clear to everyone prior to setting out on a new task or initiative. What I did learn though, is that if you are very clear on where you need to get and why it is important to get there, the journey can take many routes. As the teachers were finding their way, it was becoming clear that they were curious, innovative, and collaborative. All of this was in an effort to improve student learning, and everyone began to see the power of "building the plane as we were flying it" (to quote a person much smarter than I am). It has been a long journey this year, and it has been a lot of hard work. We are not done yet, but there is a great deal of optimism as the school year winds down and we begin to think of 2014-2015.
Change is important. I think we need to constantly be looking for ways to do things more effectively, especially when it comes to improving student learning. The critical thing is we do not let the trap of over-planning stand in the way of action.
As always I'd love to hear what you think.