Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Transparent View of Our School

In May 2014, I escorted our K-5th grade teachers on an actual Feelings Walking Tour. (The "symbolic" tour guidelines are thoroughly described in a thoughtful Edutopia blog by Maurice Elias.)  My principal and I decided our small staff deserved a collective voice in the school improvement process. It's OUR school.  First, however, we wanted our staff to have an authentic view of our campus and see the school in daily performance mode. 

Lounge talk and professional development utopia does not improve schools - it's the daily action of all stakeholders that matters most to school improvement. The tour was one action step in our aggressive professional development plan designed to break down the walls of isolation, complacency, and professional resistance.  Our low student achievement data warrants the need for systemic and radical improvement.  We needed the teachers to "see it" for themselves.  Teachers have to want to improve and be the change.  Mandatory professional development does not work uniformly.  Experiences planned for open-ended self-reflection produces exponential and sustainable results. Professional development based on choice satisfies the need of the human self-system.

Each half-day session (over the course of three full days) was attended by four teachers, from different grade levels, and myself.  Substitutes were provided so the emotional experience would be uninterrupted and free of students. Before each tour, teachers read the author's short blog, discussed the five guiding questions; and defined data gathering procedures for solely self-reflection and school improvement planning.   The teachers only carried blank paper and a copy of the prioritized environmental initiatives to record their thoughts and reactions to the campus environment.  It was repeatedly clarified that the tour was non-evaluative and individual feedback would not be provided to teachers. Self-reflection and personal change was the top priority.

Every classroom, hallway, and entryway was observed during a "regular" school day. Teachers sat in all classrooms for about 5 minutes, sauntered through the hallways, and observed the entire facility in "normal" operation. All classroom visits were unannounced, random, and silent observations.  Complete campus transparency.

After walking through the entire facility, from outside to inside, teachers confidentially debriefed in my professional development room. As the coach, I only listened and kept the conversation moving.  I did not offer feedback or insist on a viewpoint.  The dialogue was free  and candid and brutally honest.

 All teachers wrote at least one positive (yellow sticky note), one negative (pink sticky note), and one middle ground emotion (blue sticky note) on paper.

After the final day of tours, the sticky notes were displayed in the lounge so the entire staff could view the results. The conversation continued and change happened immediately.  The custodian changed light bulbs and the clutter started disappearing in classrooms.  Ultimately, teachers pleasantly confronted what needed to be addressed school-wide.

The unique tour experience was extremely powerful and an eye-opening data collection for all stakeholders!  Here a few of the comments collected from the evaluations...

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