Tag Archives: school leadership

Schools Planning to Implement Strategic “Just In Time” Intervention Need to have the Mindset of a Race Car Pit Crew, and Four Enabling Conditions

Nationwide, students face the prospect of up to 10 months of learning loss due to the pandemic. For students of color, that learning loss is even higher (12 to 16 months).  

How can educators and school leaders help students recover missed learning due to COVID-19? Traditional intervention approaches include giving students work from previous grades or subject areas that they haven’t mastered before students are given increasingly challenging material. This practice is actually remediation, and it will be insufficient to help students make up lost ground.

Instead, “just in time” (JIT) intervention, a proven strategy for helping students efficiently close learning gaps so they can quickly access rigorous grade-level content, takes a more focused approach. By identifying the narrow set of prerequisite skills students need to master in order to be ready for grade level content, JIT gives students a “dose” of intervention to teach them those missing prerequisite skills so they can be ready to access grade-level material quickly. This allows students and teachers to chip away at learning gaps with intentionality and relevance over time, versus holding kids back until they have mastered all of their missed learning. 

JIT is at the top of most recommended academic acceleration strategies, and rightly so.

But JIT can be challenging to implement well because it requires both a different mindset than typically used to catch students up and it requires the coordinated use of school resources. Implementation requires school teams to adopt the mindset of a race car pit crew and ensure four key enabling conditions are in place. 

Like a great race car pit crew, the JIT approach to intervention requires educators to:

  • Pinpoint the most critical interventions 
  • Ruthlessly prioritize where to start
  • Focus on getting the driver (or in this case, the student) back on the track quickly

In contrast, like a mediocre auto mechanic, traditional remediation approaches: 

  • Run unnecessary tests
  • Require addressing everything at once
  • Result in lots of time off the road (or in this case, time not spent on rigorous grade-level content)

JIT intervention includes four key steps to implement, and four enabling school conditions to implement well. 

Four key steps of JIT intervention cycles:

  1. Identify: Identify prerequisite skill gaps for upcoming grade-level content using a diagnostic. 
  2. Plan: Plan to use high quality curricular materials to address prerequisite skill gaps before teaching the grade-level content. 
  3. Teach: Provide targeted instruction to students in prerequisite skills, leveraging various configurations (whole group, small group, 1:1). 
  4. Assess: After grade-level lessons have been taught, reassess students to determine mastery/readiness for grade level content and ongoing intervention needs.

While there is more than one “right way” to do JIT intervention, we have found these four enabling school conditions necessary for schools to have in place in order to do this work effectively:

  • Right materials: Schools will need high-quality, standards-aligned curriculum materials for core lessons and intervention lessons. They will also need diagnostics aligned to their curriculum that can be used to identify key prerequisite knowledge and skills prior to a unit of instruction.
  • Right data: Schools will need to regularly collect and analyze diagnostic data, including having a process, and dedicated time, for data analysis.
  • Right schedule: Teachers will need sufficient time to analyze data and plan for intervention. There will also need to be dedicated time for students to receive the targeted intervention on the prerequisite skills prior to the upcoming unit.  
  • Right people: Schools will need clear instructional leadership responsible for ensuring intervention happens effectively. Leadership will also be critical in coordinating resources, schedules, data, and teachers in support of interventions. (Additional teachers and interventionists to support with instruction are great to have if possible, but are not essential to do JIT intervention well.)

To help leaders and educators looking to implement JIT intervention into their program this fall, our team has created a simple tool to help assess readiness and provide guidance on implementation. 

With limited time, energy and resources, educators will need to get more strategic and efficient about identifying and supporting students’ most critical needs. Bellwether’s “Just in Time” Intervention Planning Toolkit can provide a helpful roadmap on how to do that.

Three leaders on schooling during the COVID-19 pandemic

It’s been almost a full year since the pandemic transformed our nation’s schools, and we find ourselves in yet another time of rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. Schools have seen nearly every possible iteration of virtual, in-person, and hybrid learning, but the leaders we work with have proven incredibly adaptable and graceful in the face of constant changes and stress.

Back in April 2020, we interviewed four leaders who piloted some of our tips and shared these video conversations. We recently followed up with two of those leaders and engaged a third to ask about their progress and lessons learned.

Watch our new three-part series with short videos from Jessica Nauiokas of Mott Haven Academy Charter School, Daniela Anello of D.C. Bilingual, and Jennifer Benavides of Fox Tech High School. What will they leave behind — and take away — from this incredibly challenging year?

Here are a few lessons from these inspiring women:

Ask how students feel before assuming they are ready to learn

Especially in schools that serve populations of predominantly low-income students and/or students of color, students may be under intense stress. They may have family members newly sick, out of work, or experiencing housing insecurity. Students may have more people under one roof than ever before, making it difficult to focus on learning. The adults in their lives are likely stretched thin and worried about events in the news.

All three leaders spoke of their intentional efforts to understand and address students’ emotional state and wellness regularly. For D.C. Bilingual, this meant checking in weekly on each family from March to June 2020, and doing so on a biweekly basis during this new school year. For Mott Haven, this has meant capturing students’ written and spoken feelings about dealing with the uncertainty in the world.

Fox Tech is piloting the Rhithm app to get a quick snapshot of how students are feeling and who has optimal capacity for learning. The tool allows the school to direct counselors or district social workers to those most struggling.

Some aspects of school or instruction may remain virtual even after the pandemic

For Nauiokas and her team, student-teacher conferences during COVID have seen higher rates of attendance and levels of parent engagement. Students can participate from home “at a time that’s convenient for the family,” she says, and the adult team can all join the line at the same time, helping students see the collective effort supporting their success. Mott Haven expects to keep these conferences virtual moving forward.

At DC Bilingual, Anello and her team are attentive to making sure students get a developmentally appropriate amount of screen time. She also believes that overall, student exposure to and mastery of technology will be beneficial in the long term. “It can help [students] navigate state tests that are on the computer,” offers Anello, in addition to giving them a chance to practice sharing their knowledge using slide decks and presentations, skills that will be useful throughout their schooling and careers.

Students need to be talking to one another

The loss of peer engagement and socialization is particularly tough for the youngest learners, so schools need to create ways for students to engage not just with teachers but with one another. These leaders have tried different virtual platforms for student-to-student engagement. Benavides’ teachers host break out rooms on Zoom or Google Classrooms, encourage students to leave comments on others’ work, and use the web application Pear Deck to allow students to engage back and forth.

Our video series is live here. If our team can support your school with curriculum, instruction, culture, or assessment planning, please contact us.

Five Lessons From a Year of Nutritional Coaching (That I Wish I Learned as a School Leader)

Last February (and not because of a New Year’s resolution, if you’re wondering), I decided to sign up for a nutritional coaching program with a trainer at my gym. Over the last 11 months, I’ve learned a tremendous amount. Yet what I’ve learned has very little to do with “diets” or figuring out what to eat. Instead, the program has helped me build some critical habits that not only helped me improve my relationship to food, they also helped me reflect on my time as a school leader and what I wish I did differently.  

If you’re resolving to be healthier in the new year, thinking about how to improve your school next year, or both(!), I hope some of the five lessons I learned can be helpful to you:

  1. Start with why, not what

Let’s face it: becoming a healthier person or improving a school is hard work. It’s hard to skip the chocolate cake and substitute carrots. It’s hard to hold teachers and students accountable to your high standards and way easier to just “let the small things slide.” Continue reading

We Don’t Know What the Superintendency Looks Like, and That’s a Problem.

This post is part of a week-long series about educator and leader pipelines. Read the rest of the series here.

We’ve talked a lot this week about the teacher pipeline. My colleagues have dug into issues like innate inequities in teacher hiring and the retention of high-performing teachers. There’s absolutely work to be done to ensure districts recruit, train, and retain high-quality educators, and we’re able to ground these efforts in demographic data, with insight into teacher and principal demographics from the Department of Education’s National Center on Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Survey. As we make efforts to diversify and expand our teacher pipeline, it’s valuable to know what our current teacher workforce looks like, especially on a state-by-state level.

First graders answer questions for a project about bees. Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action

What we don’t have though, is reliable, state-level data on school superintendent demographics. While we look to improve teacher pipelines, we should not ignore leadership pipelines. And if we don’t know what our existing superintendent pool looks like, it can be challenging to determine how or even if that network could be expanded.

The American Association of School Administrators prints an annual Salary and Benefits Study, which includes survey data capturing school leader demographics. Unfortunately, the survey’s 15 percent response rate prevents it from being truly representative. While we can make broad estimates about the country’s 13,674 districts and their respective leaders based on national figures, there is not, to my knowledge, a publicly available data set of state-level superintendent demographics across race and gender. Anyone know of such a set? I’d love to talk: kirsten.schmitz@bellwethereducation.org.

These roles are powerful, and representation matters. If we can’t analyze broad trends in school leadership at the state level, we miss opportunities to highlight states with diverse administrators, as well as those which may benefit from targeted outreach and recommendations. The same questions we ask about educator diversity — like “is our teacher workforce representative of our student population?” — can be applied to superintendents. We could further answer equity questions around wage gaps, mentoring, and access to leadership opportunities. And finally, as several of the nation’s largest school districts scramble to appoint new superintendents from a finite applicant pool, this field landscaping work becomes especially valuable.

We can and should work to improve our teacher pipeline. But we should also strive to know more about our school leaders. Knowing where we stand is the baseline first step, and it shouldn’t be this challenging to get there.

What I Learned About Retaining Teachers From Having Done It Badly as a New Principal

Photo via Flickr user jeffdjevdet

This post is part of a week-long series about educator and leader pipelines. Read the rest of the series here.

As schools across the nation get back into gear, top of mind for principals and leaders is how to keep the teachers they’ve hired. I can tell you now: free coffee in the workroom, t-shirts during teacher appreciation week, “carrot and stick” methods, or other gimmicks by themselves don’t keep teachers. Teachers stay when they experience genuine care and investment from their school leaders and managers. Gallup’s well-known research, which led to the creation of the Q12 survey to assess employee engagement, points directly to the impact of a strong manager. Their research reiterates the common idea that “employees don’t leave companies, they leave managers.” Similarly, teachers don’t leave schools, they leave principals and leaders who haven’t been able to engage them. I learned this the hard way.

At the start of my first year as a principal, I hired a team of twenty one. By the end of the school year, only seventeen remained. Of the seventeen, only seven continued on into the following school year. While some of the seventeen were let go, I knew that too many of them had quit.

I felt frustrated and exhausted. I remember taking those seven remaining teachers out for dinner and asking them: “Why did you stay?” Their responses became my first leadership lesson as a new manager: They said: “We were the ones you invested in,” “we were the ones you trusted and gave leadership to,” and “we were the ones who you showed that you cared [about personally].”

This was hard to hear but true: these were the teachers who I invested in more, trusted, and encouraged, especially when they were struggling. I was thankful for this feedback. Moving forward, I tried each year to create this feeling for my whole team and not just a select few.

Here are some of the key changes I made and the ones I suggest to leaders:

Know the individuals on your team

No matter how big your school is, you need to know the individuals on your team. Know their strengths, areas of growth, interests, and aspirations. Ask about their significant others, kids, and life outside of the school — take a personal interest in them. Leverage a situational leadership style to tailor your support of them. Use your head and your heart when working with them. If you hired them, hopefully you care enough to see them not just as the teacher who teaches in room 202 but as a whole person.

Coach and develop your team

Make sure they have a coach who is providing personalized development, even if it’s not you. Ensure this is happening on a consistent and regular basis, and regularly make time to check in with them yourself on how their coaching and support is going. This includes joining coaching sessions to offer input and push the quality further. Plan professional development that is tailored and differentiated, whether that includes choice in sessions or structured pathways such as teaching fellow programs. Create stretch opportunities for them to grow in areas they may not even recognize as strengths yet.

Ask questions and listen to them

Be genuinely curious about their opinions and feedback, even if you don’t use all of it. Create the space for them to share constructive ideas and thoughts about improvement. Let them know when you have used their feedback or ideas. Gallup’s research affirms that employees who feel like significant contributors to their organization and believe their “opinion counts” experience a higher level of satisfaction in their workplace. If I had not taken my seven returners to dinner, asked them for their honest feedback, and genuinely listened to it, I would have missed out on a vital leadership growth opportunity for myself.

Be patient with them

Understand that they will make mistakes, drop balls, miss deadlines, arrive late, call out sick last minute, etc. Use these moments as a learning opportunity to reset expectations and plan for the future with them as opposed to becoming annoyed, holding a grudge, or looking for their next mistake. Keep the bar high and provide direction, support, and scaffolds to help your teachers get there.

Empower them

Create opportunities for as many team members as possible to lead and shape aspects of the school. Create opportunities for your teachers to start and lead initiatives that allow them to bring other aspects of their personal life into the school. This spreads leadership and ownership of the school while also enriching it with diverse perspectives and points of view. I remember the day my principal asked me to lead my grade-level team even though there were more experienced teachers on it. He and I didn’t know then that he had sowed the seeds of school leadership by recognizing something in me.

Show your appreciation

You should be your teachers’ biggest fan. Celebrate your teachers’ growth and accomplishments. And just like in an interpersonal relationship, don’t wait for Valentine’s Day or birthdays to show appreciation. Take a page out of the 5 Love Languages and demonstrate your appreciation in a variety of ways, like by saying “it was great watching you in action with your kids today…” or by genuinely spending time with your teachers. I fondly remember chatting it up with my teachers as they headed home after school.

Become the kind of manager our teams need us to be — our kids and communities can’t afford a revolving door of teachers.