Building Clarity on Reinvention

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Building Clarity on Reinvention

By: Rodney Watson, Lupita Hinojosa, Matt Pariseau (Spring Independent School District, Texas) &
Michael Duncan, Jennifer Allison (Pike County School District, Ga.)

Spring ISD parent advisory committee supper with the superintendent

As superintendents and district leaders, we know our school systems require reinvention to equitably meet the needs of each learner in a rapidly changing world. We knew this before the multiple crises of the past year and half, and we felt it even more strongly during 2020-21. So, when AASA and Transcend launched the first Roads to Reinvention Community of Practice in the fall of 2020, we immediately signed on.

We joined a national community of six districts and a regional service agency, all of whom wanted to think together about how to reinvent our systems in a time of unprecedented uncertainty and change.

We began by exploring how student experiences needed to be designed differently to leap from a one-size-fits-all, inequitable industrial model of learning to an equitable, 21st century design. These 10 Leaps helped us clearly and concisely articulate the before and after we were aiming for, and we were able to readily identify a specific, Leaps-aligned initiative already underway in our districts. For Spring ISD, the initiative was our six elementary and middle school Innovation Zone pilots. At Pike County Schools, the focus was deeper learning work resulting from our Portrait of a Graduate initiative.

As we all know, initiatives don’t always succeed. They need to be nurtured and tended to with care. We spent the bulk of our eight-month journey on the Road to Reinvention exploring as leadership teams—and a community of leadership teams—the conditions that enable innovation to take root and spread: conviction, clarity, coalition, capacity, and culture. We began with a conditions self-assessment, individually considering where our district initiative work was on the statements defined in the assessment. For example, in conviction, where did each of us think our district stood on the statement, “Innovation work is among our system’s top three priorities, which means we all devote significant time, resources, and attention to it”?  And, further, what rationale did each of us have for the ratings we gave?

Transcend translated these assessments into an easy-to-use dashboard and a simple debrief protocol that enabled us to have rich and sometimes contentious conversations around leadership team alignment and misalignment.

The 5 Conditions dashboard showing the aggregate assessments across a district.

The dashboard also shows disaggregated data with anonymous rationales for the ratings, in this case for ‘Capacity.’

Difficult as those conversations were, even more valuable was what we learned when we offered the same self-assessment tool to our stakeholders: everyone from students and caregivers to teachers, teacher leaders, building leaders, and central office staff. We discovered that what we, the district leadership team, thought was a strength was actually an area of growth. Both our districts, Pike County and Spring ISD, found we needed to focus our Road to Reinvention around building Clarity around our respective initiatives.

Pike County community design session

In Spring ISD we knew we had strong system-wide conviction around the need for reinvention, and the survey bore that out. However, it became clear that our various stakeholders did not have clarity about what the redesign work entailed. We decided to create focus groups to hear where our students, families, teachers, teacher leaders, building leaders, and central office staff felt we were and what their hopes for the children were. After listening, we arrived at some guiding ideas and convened site-based school design teams to translate those guiding ideas into new student learning experiences that we can implement and iterate on through improvement cycles. [Spring ISD’s Road to Reinvention]

At Pike County, our lowest conditions assessment results were with Coalition and Capacity. We initially chose Coalition as the condition we wanted to focus on improving. However, as we engaged in debrief conversations at our school sites, we learned that the coalition was fractured and the capacity was limited because, underneath all the work, there was a lack of clarity on the deeper learning strategy and goals. Like Spring ISD, we began a series of community dialogues around our Portrait of a Graduate and deeper learning. We invited our families to join design teams where they engaged in design thinking to support those in our community who didn’t have clarity on our reinvention work. These family design teams built out a resource guide, reimagined curriculum nights, and are designing the role of an achievement concierge who might support families in helping build goal-directed persistence in students. [Pike County Schools’ Road to Reinvention]

On a bi-monthly basis we brought our ‘ahas’ and ‘oh-nos’ to the Roads to Reinvention Community of Practice. AASA and Transcend created a safe, fertile space where we could listen, learn, and problem-solve. We all worked together to learn a new language around the Conditions for Innovation. If, before, we looked at an initiative and analyzed what worked and didn’t work, now we had a way of going one level deeper, into the soil. We knew there was good soil and bad soil for innovations to flourish, but now we had specific names for the ameliorants and methods that could improve the soil. By naming things together (and learning together), we could share calibrated insights and advice, both within our systems and across the different districts. This enrichment enabled our reinvention initiatives to take deeper root. 

Spring ISD:  Rodney Watson, superintendent (NFSA Superintendent of the Year, 2021); Lupita Hinojosa, chief officer of innovation and equity; Matt Pariseau, assistant superintendent for curriculum and professional development

Pike County Schools:  Michael Duncan, superintendent (Georgia Superintendent of the Year, 2021); Jennifer Allison, director of teaching and learning

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