In one hundred twenty pages, Mike Schmoker makes a persuasive case for teacher-led instructional improvement through small teams focused on goals for student achievement measured by all types of data (results). (See Lesson Study for a framework for this approach.) But first, he recognizes the political insight and courage required by policy leaders to develop and support such a system. Quoting Fullan and Miles, he notes:
p.1. In other words, policy leaders who have previously "launched initiatives . . .and spent untold hours drawing up visions and mission statements" must now focus on creating a system characterized at the teacher level by meaningful, informed teamwork; clear, measurable goals; and the regular collection and analysis of performance data. (This should also be the character of the central office, as Dr. Schmoker mentions. Click here for an example from Baltimore.)
Dr. Schmoker provides examples from research, the business world, and research of how and why this approach not only can, but has produced rapid, significant improvement in important areas of student achievement. And, as a wonderful but appropriate correlate, professionals involved in such a system find themselves enjoying their work and eager for continuing efforts and the achievement of more of their goals. According to one study, "people who are members of effective teams 'consistently and without prompting emphasized the fun aspects of their work together.'" p. 14.
However, changing to such an approach requires explicit support, direction, focused resources, continuing encouragement to the participants and frequent recognition and celebrations of successes. That's because, presently, "schools have an almost cultural and ingrained aversion to reckoning with, much less living by, results." (p.3) Further, there is a "tendency in schools to avert the confrontation that is at the heart of a true results orientation." (p. 6) The key to change is to help teams select doable, important goals and see short-term progress.
Teacher-led instructional improvement teams conduct action research. "Effective teamwork that leads to results is a discipline -- and requires a scientific disposition." (p.16). Chapter 3 suggests some guidelines for teams:
"Goals are the stuff of motivation, persistence, and well-being." (p.23), but they have to be measured in student achievement. No more goals to "implement X program" or "train all teachers in Y methodology." Criteria for effective goals include:
It is interesting to think of the effect of such goals on Philip Daro's definition of standards as "What it takes to get a 'B' in Ms. So-and-so's class." (Click here for more.) Further, such goals are inherently "public" and "accountable".
What types of measures?
Dr. Schmoker argues for a broad array of data including rubrics developed and used in common by groups of teacher teams, running records for reading, assignments completed, books read, percentage of students engaging in class discussions, etc., etc. Recognizing that such specific data carries with it a certain risk, and noting the need for personal safety before teachers, individually or in teams, will be willing to take the risk of setting measurable goals (and, in many cases, be the data gatherers), he also suggests the following threat-reducing strategies:
Research and Development
Chapter 5 focuses on the application of the best research information to the efforts of teacher teams. He suggests that a growing body of solid, reliable research (Daubert standards?) points the way toward effective teaching, and that this body of knowledge needs to be readily available to teacher teams. My experience in continuing legal education and specialization suggests:
Finally, Dr. Schmoker returns to the issue of leadership. Bottom line, the political leadership in a community striving to create an environment favorable to teacher-led instructional improvement will have to resist the temptation to dictate too much from the top. Instead, they must focus on whether the environment is right for teachers to focus on improving instruction for improved achievement, or, "Quality Learning Through Quality Work, Every Student, Every Day."