My View                                                    Page 16-17


Staff Grieve Before Accepting

the New Reality      



I used to become frustrated when my school district staff did not immediately embrace the facts of our new reality — the pre-eminent place of data and accountability for genuine results that has been thrust upon us in K-12 education. I recently realized that to accept this new world, we must first move through a process akin to the seven stages of dealing with grief.

Teachers and administrators have to move from shock and denial, to acceptance of the data on student perform-ance, to effective data-driven instruction and beyond. If we do not fully understand, appreciate and help our staff members through the stages, we are doomed to flounder in frustration.

I have seen this play out from various vantage points — as a parent, teacher, building administrator and now central-office administrator.

Parallel Steps
The first stage parallels the way we all begin to cope with grief. The staff must come to accept the new reality before any change can begin. They loved the past, or at least were familiar and comfortable with it, and are unwilling or unable to move on. When the old ways of doing things in our working life are taken away or disassembled, we grieve the loss. Then we work through each of these steps, one by one, just as we would upon losing a loved one: (1) shock and denial; (2) pain and guilt; (3) anger and bargaining; (4) depression, reflection and loneliness; (5) upward turn; (6) reconstruction and working through; and (7) acceptance and hope.

In Stage 2, we might do well to listen to Jim Collins, when he refers in Good to Great, to “confronting the brutal facts” and the need to lift up all the rocks and look at the squiggly things underneath. Too often, we plant seeds of data without first cultivating the soil. Charts and graphs bearing standard deviations and standard errors may have been part of your training, but for many staff members and even principals, it is unfamiliar turf.

A key to navigating this stage is the reassurance of job security that we provide. Staff members should understand they are not being held responsible for the data itself but for how effectively they respond to what the data indicate about student achievement.

Adjustments Begin
The willingness and the capacity to look at the data lead to the next step — comparing results and instructional techniques.
Stage 3 involves using item analysis to find flaws or gaps in our curriculum and instruction at the individual teacher/classroom level. This is a huge step because it is the first time we actually adjust instruction based on honest data about student learning, not just what we think or feel.

Stage 4 is a direct result of the sharing that takes place when studying the data. This happens when the instructional practices of grade-level teachers or a department are so aligned that their instruction and subsequent achievement scores become consistent and fluctuate in unison. One sign of this: Teachers can seek out or offer help freely without fear of ridicule or unfair political consequences.

Stage 5 follows the alignment of curriculum, instruction and assessment across the grade level and/or building. The staff now turns its attention to the specific student or subgroup by enriching the instruction or by intervening with individuals with a skill deficiency or gaps in knowledge. We can adjust our instruction as a whole to support a specific performance issue, such as measurement. When a team has this type of instructional alignment, the school district can share a treasure chest of interventions and enrichments to help all students grow.

Stage 6 is year-round data-driven instruction for the grade-level team or building staff. This year-round use of data is a breakthrough moment in the process, and the momentum of change takes over so the change begins to sustain itself. At this point, teachers can’t imagine doing things any other way — they hunger for data, are fully capable of finding it or generating it, and use it to drive their instruction with minimal push from anyone else.

Powerful Effects
The ultimate goal is achieved at Stage 7, when the use of performance data is so ingrained in the culture of the school, it is accessible to students and parents at any point in time. Once it reaches the student level, data have the power to affect learning significantly.

The challenge is to take an honest look at yourself, your schools and your district to determine where staff members stand in this process and then move everyone forward from there. Similar to the stages of grief, it is not an easy road to recovery from the loss of that ill-informed world we all knew and loved. The outcome, however, is well worth the effort.

Kyle Ramey is director of instructional services in the Kettering City Schools in Kettering, Ohio. E-mail: kyle.ramey@ketteringschools.org


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