“The more you focus on results, the slower the process. The more you focus on process the faster the results.” This quote appeals to many educators. In its purest meaning, the quote is logical. The very act of focusing on how to improve brings about improvement.
For driven school leaders, however, results are high priority. Processes within their school organization is often unseen by their superiors; whereas, the clear cut, black and white results are visible and oftentimes publicized.
Accountability is reality for school leaders. Their jobs depend on whether or not students are meeting or attaining proficiency targets, or making progress respectively. If the data reflects anything other than increased student achievement, school leaders are held responsible. Whether or not this is the way it should be is not the current topic of discussion. The fact remains that this is the present reality of school leaders.
Reaching desired results, as indicated by student achievement, continues to be a focus for school leaders. The process to attain achievement is often overshadowed by the focus on results.
A school leader may ask what impact will the process make, and how fast will it produce desired results. This is a valid question given the school leader’s responsibility to ensure that students are being prepared for the next level of their education and life in general. To say that process is more important than results to a school leader.
Rather than dismissing the importance of results, there should be an emphasis on utilizing a process for desired results.
Understanding the difference between results and goals is key.
♦Results are the product—that is, what happened because of specific actions. Results should be referenced when creating goals.
♦Goals are the desired state—that is, where the school would like to be after implementing the process for goal attainment.
Ideally, results will exceed the goal. Results mirror the goal on rare occasions. Although the results and goals may match, they are designed for different purposes and are not the same.
It is important to consider results and goals before exploring the following suggested process or practice to attain desired results.
Step 1. Develop a strategic goal—A strategic goal based on data is the “what”—as in what will be accomplished. This backwards design concept (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) [beginning with the end in mind] sets a clear focus. A wise person once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.” Thus, a strategic goal is the destination which prompts further thought for a plan or process for reaching the desired destination.
Step 2. Determine process for goal attainment—Since the goal has been established, a process for reaching the goal can now be developed. This process has a two-fold purpose.
♦As a roadmap for how to attain the strategic goal, the process itself could include several projects. For example, if teacher intentional lesson planning is a component of the strategic goal, then the process of collaborative standards-based planning and peer practice may be a focal point for professional learning community discussions. To follow up, feedback to teachers from school leaders’ class visits may include particular “notices” and “wonderings” about plans for specific instructional strategies.
♦The process is also a channel in which school leaders can embed supportive structures to help teachers meet the desired goal. Teacher mentors, co-teaching, coaching cycles, and informal instructional rounds are just a few supportive structures that school leaders may incorporate for teacher benefits. If thoughtfully planned, the process can help school leaders move teacher practice from ritual compliance to “habits of thinking” for constant improvement of effective instructional practices (Fink & Markholt, 2011).
Step 3. Monitor progress towards goal—Progress monitoring can include a variety of data points including: formative and summative assessments, classroom visits, one-on-one conversations with teachers, etc. Data informs. It gages how well school leaders and teachers help students. It also reveals how well leaders support teachers, as teachers help students. Leaders must first decide which data to utilize and how it will be used.
A school leader who is aware of students’ performance by teacher data can better pose questions to prompt teacher reflection of how the data correlates with classroom instruction. Questions posed and leader-teacher conversations will enable the leader to assess teachers’ current state and progress towards a set goal. The process of progress monitoring is more about how to help and less about where to place blame. It’s about being fully present with the individuals working towards accomplishing the goal.
Step 4. Adjust accordingly—Some say, “The data doesn’t lie.” While this is true, the black and white of numerical data neglects to tell the whole story. It may not reveal action steps prior to the data collection. Rather, data informs of progress towards the goal and adjustments needed. After data collection and analysis, conversations amongst leaders and teachers should result in what worked, what did not, and adjustments necessary for improvement. Adjustments may require revisiting any of the steps above. It should be noted that steps in the process are recursive. During plans for improvement, each step should be revisited when necessary.
When thoughtfully planned, a process is results driven. Transparency of the process considers the positions of involved individuals, where they need to go, and how to get them there.
A transparent process serves as a roadmap to attain an explicit goal and will likely yield desired results. Transparency of the process establishes trust. Working through a trusted process will also build a more cohesive team effort amongst those who appreciate a clear direction and plan for reaching the desired goal.
The process is a tool that will succeed or fail based on who implements it. The process is just that. It is nothing more. It is about the people working the process for desired results.
Fink, S. & Markholt, A. (2011) Leading for instructional improvement. San Francisco, CA:Jossey-Bass. ISBN-13: 978-0470542750.
Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (2005) Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. ISBN-13: 978-0131950849.