In every school, there's a gap between the vision and the current reality.
Well, one reason is that we continually raise the bar!
If you achieve one vision, you raise your sights higher, and widen the gap again.
That's the good reason to have a gap between vision and reality.
But there's also a gap because change is hard.
Schools are complex systems, and systems tend toward stability—that is, they tend not to change easily.
The best way to make your vision a reality is to be very specific about what you want to change.
The more clear and specific you are, the easier it is to lead change.
In fact, some changes can happen immediately—like changes to how your school handles tardies.
If you come up with a new tardy policy, you can put it into effect right away.
But instructional improvement is more complicated, so it's hard to be more specific.
As leaders, we tend to think at a big-picture level.
We know what we want to happen, but teachers have MUCH more specific decisions to make in order to implement that vision.
For example, let's say you want everyone to start using learning intentions and success criteria.
At a leadership level, this is a very clear and specific vision.
You've probably read books and articles, and/or attended training on it, and feel like you have a pretty good handle on the idea.
But for teachers, there's a LOT more to think about. They have MUCH more specific decisions to make.
For example, what will they need to STOP doing in order to START using learning intentions and success criteria effectively?
HOW will they determine their learning intentions and success criteria?
As Charlotte Danielson says:
“Teaching entails expertise; like other professions, professionalism in teaching requires complex decision making in conditions of uncertainty.
If one acknowledges, as one must, the cognitive nature of teaching, then conversations about teaching must be about the cognition.”
—Charlotte Danielson, Talk About Teaching, pp. 6-7, emphasis in original
That's why instructional frameworks are so critical—because they give teachers the specific guidance they need.
Charlotte Danielson's own Framework for Teaching is a great rubric for teacher practice overall.
So if you want a model to work from as you turn your own vision into a clear framework, start there.
Break it down into the key dimensions, from the teacher's point of view—what I call the “insider's view” of practice, rather than the observer's perspective.
But don't be reductive—don't oversimplify the complex decisions teachers need to make.
See, as observers, we tend to want a checklist.
We want to be able to pop in with a clipboard, check off the things we want to see, and call it good.
In essence, we want everyone to do all the right things, all the time.
We want supervision to be easy and obvious: “You are doing the right things. Good job.”
We want feedback to be easy and obvious: “You need to do more of the right things, such as X and Y.”
You can see this in the design of many rubrics.
Instead of four clearly different levels of performance, like in Danielson's Framework…
…people tend to write just one performance descriptor, and turn it into four levels of performance by adding frequency or extent language:
- Never uses learning intentions & success criteria
- Sometimes uses learning intentions & success criteria
- Consistently uses learning intentions & success criteria
- Always uses learning intentions & success criteria…really…well?
See how this fails to provide helpful guidance to the teacher?
If I'm at a Level 2—called “basic” in some rubrics—what should I do?
Do more of the right things, and less of the wrong things.
Be more consistent.
OK, but what should I do differently?
It's not clear.
This kind of “frequency/extent rubric” doesn't answer my questions as a teacher.
It doesn't help me make the actual decisions I need to make.
It just burdens me with one more thing to worry about, without much guidance on how to do it.
What's your instructional vision, in your own words?
What do I want to the reality to be in our school?
Then, think from a teacher's perspective:
- What decisions would this change really require them to make?
- How might I guide people in the right direction as they make these decisions?