Last week we had our May Network Team Institute Training. By day four, most everybody was totally spent. It was hard work. Good work, but hard. Our focus was on Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) and Teacher Evaluation, with the following objectives defined in the four-day agenda:
- Understand how teacher observation and SLOs support learning for ALL students and target the learning of sub-groups [ELL, SWD, etc.]
- Understand the expectations for the first calibration of inter-rater reliability
- Gain essential insight for implementing district SLO processes
- Understand best practices for turn-keying training to local districts
- Collaborate with colleagues
With state-wide budget votes and school board elections smack in the middle on day two, and the hoopla of state testing issues still lingering in the air, people were a little testy–particularly during SLO training. Perhaps Kate or Ken had anticipated as much when they opened the institute with the following quote from Ronald Heifetz‘ Leadership Without Easy Answers, “The difference between an adaptive problem and a technical one is key. There are problems that are just technical. I’m delighted when a car mechanic fixes my car, an orthopedic surgeon gives me back a healed bone, or an internist gives me penicillin and cures my pneumonia. That’s a key question: is this a problem that an expert can fix, or is this a problem that is going to require people in the community to change their values, their behavior, or their attitudes? For this problem to be solved, are people going to need to learn new ways of doing business?” What a great reminder of how complicated reform is, particularly when done right. Race to the Top poses adaptive problems in addition to the technical ones. We can efficiently work through the technical issues, but adapting to change is another story.
Race to the Top Network Team members that descend on the Capital Region every six weeks or so are a good lot. We have gotten to know one another over the past 250+ hours of Network Team Institute time, and the people doing this important reform work care deeply and want to do the right thing for their schools and regions. With stakes high for teachers and principals, we sometimes get stressed out when answers from presenters aren’t neat and tight. With so much of this work highly contextual, the myriad of possible scenarios take too much time to belabor during a Network Team Institute session–particularly when it comes to Student Learning Objectives. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always sit well when you have 100+ people in one room. During our second day, people began asking context questions that, for the most part, are resolvable using the NYSED APPR Guidance document. In any event, a need to move on with the agenda led to what could have been a Led Zeppelin (Communication Breakdown)/Cool Hand Luke (Failure to Communicate) moment. Fortunately, SED and the Regents Fellows partnered together to manage the situation promptly and efficiently.
Kate respectfully reminded people there was much work yet to be done during the training, and that answers to all questions posed would be addressed the following day. Ken later reiterated Kate’s message and offered to meet with anyone who wished to discuss the SLO contextual questions further (three chose to meet with Ken after his talk). By honoring those individuals wanting their particular scenarios immediately addressed while also keeping to the day’s agenda, the SLO session progressed as scheduled with all parties receiving what they needed.
In spite of the tremendous change being pushed at breakneck speed, the quality of material being rolled out at Network Team Institutes and the savvy opening day presentations by John King, Ken Slentz, and Kate Gerson are making all this change adaptable. Certainly not easy, but doable just the same. Most encouraging, when emotions rise and rigidity increases, SED reminds us all to take a deep breath and “Don’t let perfect get in the way of good.”