In the absence of a culture that takes the success of every student personally, collaborative systems of support will not be successful. When the attitude of schools is that high levels of learning is an inevitability, nothing is impossible. In the absence of these cultures, we do not recommend that you bother expending the psychological and fiscal energies to develop the principles and practices described.
Culture and ownership are inextricably linked. When staffs, students, and all other stakeholders feel intimately connected to this most important work, we will succeed. When these stakeholders have an authentic voice, cultures of commitment and collective responsibility will prevail.
In our practice, we have implemented both sustaining and disruptive innovations (Christensen, 2003). We accept that we must have revolutionary goals, also known Big Hairy Audacious Goals (Collins, 2001), that are introduced and implemented in a more evolutionary manner. But we will be patiently persistent, challenging the status quo, always striving to improve.
One of the most significant obstacles to progress is the idea of seat time and the ways in which time is allocated within traditional daily schedules. If we continue to view whole group instruction, and not smaller group and more targeted supports, as the only time during which legitimate teaching (and hopefully, learning) is taking place, we will not fulfill the promise of core, more, and highly-specific supports.
As in most states, in the state of California in the US, home of 1 in 8 US students, students in grades 9-12 are required to sit in classes for specific amounts of time (64,800 minutes a year or 360 minutes a day). These time constraints can inhibit schools’ abilities to customize learning experiences for students within a collaborative system of supports. Other US states, such as Michigan and New Hampshire, are loosening these constraints, in the interest of better preparing students for college and career.
The amount of yearly time devoted to core instruction within secondary schools is 64,800 minutes within an 180 day school year; however, only half of the those minutes are dedicated to core support, with the other half dedicated to more and highly-specific supports. In the past, policy officials have indicated that more and highly-specific supports do not count as seat-time, and yet they are most definitely connected to both curricular priorities and readiness for careers. Until we break through the status quo regarding topics such as seat time, our abilities to truly transform teaching and learning and students’ educational experiences will be greatly constrained.
We often hear educators express concerns about the amount of time it will take to manage students’ personalized learning plans, both for vulnerable students receiving specific supports that address deficits in foundational skills and for students engaged in highly-specific supports that allow them to pursue their passions. While we can and must do a better job of formatively assessing, and providing feedback to students, regarding progress, educators need not be the only stakeholder who assumes this responsibility, and the practice need not be extremely time-intensive.
Student self-assessment is an effective practice in which schools can engage (Hattie, 2009, 2012). We will be wise to increasingly involve students in reflecting upon and developing improvement plans for their learning. Students’ peers should also be partners in the continuous improvement process. Lastly, we must re-examine educators’ roles in grading; we don’t need to have all the answers; instead, we should partner with students to ask the right questions that promote both learning and increased student ownership.
A critical element of school culture, and a common concern we hear expressed by our colleagues, is how our most vulnerable students and their parents will feel when we “single them out” with intensive interventions. Our antidotes to these legitimate concerns are:
- Be honest with students about their current status and their chances for success in careers and to be future ready in the absence of targeted supports.
- Involve students in their learning path; we need not and should not dictate terms to students; we must insist on the supports that will best serve students, with their authentic input.
- Prioritize relationships. Students who feel successful in schools are almost always connected to a course and staff member, at least in part because they have experienced success in that staff member’s course. Illiteracy, innumeracy, and a lack of pro-social and pro-functional skills will condemn a student to a frustrating adult life, so we must advocate fiercely for the supports that will ameliorate these deficits. When we demonstrate repeatedly and powerfully that we believe in them and will partner with them to ensure progress, connectivity to school will increase. Relationships matter and are a research-based “intervention” (Brophy, 1985; Crosnoe, Johnson, & Elder, 2004; Hamre, & Pianta, 2001; Lynch, & Cicchetti, 1997; Midgley, Feldlaufer, & Eccles, 1989; Hattie, 2009).
The goals and focus of collaborative teams should be universal and clear – to ensure that all students gain deeper mastery of the outcomes that the teachers, school, and communities most value. The specific pathways may change, but the goals and focus must not. Let’s not allow perfection to be the enemy of progress as we establish cultures of innovation and provide exceptional service to students in our schools.
We close with a quote:
How many effective schools would you have to see to be persuaded of the educability of all children? If your answer is more than one, then I submit that you have reasons of your own for preferring to believe that basic pupil performance derives from family background instead of school response to family background. We can, whenever & wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us; we already know more than we need to do that; whether or not we do it must finally depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far.
Edmonds, 1979, p. 23
We can and must transform our schools and we know what to do; we must commit, once and for all, to closing the knowing-doing gap.
School teams are ready but are too often frustrated by a lack a clarity on desired outcomes and a lack of direction on the processes and resources that must guide the work. We hope we have provided clarity, processes, and resources, but more importantly, we hope we have clarified the outcomes for which teams must strive: We must commit to making intentional changes to our practices so that all students develop the skills to succeed in careers and life.
We firmly believe, and research validates, that collaborative systems of support offer the most promising whole-school, comprehensive approach for educators and students to reach their full potential. We firmly believe that a system of core, more, and highly-specialized supports for all students is the most promising and practical manner in which to proceed.
We acknowledge that this represents a fairly ambitious model of personalized teaching and learning within a traditional environment. And yet, you need not begin with highly-specialized supports for all; start with these supports for our most vulnerable students.
We want to contribute to a revolution in teaching and learning, and know that students need and deserve a transformed and transformative educational experience. We also appreciate and recognize that we need to proceed in an evolutionary manner.