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Mentoring Matters for Superintendents: March 2017

Leadership-life Fit:

Try this simple breathing practice to build your resiliency and reduce stress and anxiety.

Board Relations – How Well Is Your Board Functioning?

Use this tool from The Superintendent’s Fieldbook to assess and/or discuss the efficacy of your board. Process in your mentoring relationship how you might target specific areas where you hope to increase the efficacy of your board function.

Leading Change—Strategic Thinking about Change

Ground your understanding and implementation of systems-level change in these six design principles. Then, create your theory of change/action, and you’ll be off and running in your school improvement efforts!

In his article in the September 2016 issue of Phi Delta Kappan, Joshua Starr discusses the importance of choosing dynamic, evolving strategies to support change. He notes that school improvement requires both technical and adaptive changes.

Technical work is the application of a specific solution, designed by someone else. A specific program or intervention with concretely articulated moves to be implemented in accordance with clearly defined directions would fit the concept of technical work.

Adaptive work is that which requires transformation—a change in beliefs, practices, and/or approaches. Professional learning that supports teachers in learning how to observe, diagnose, and respond effectively to a student reading issue, for example, would require a possible change in beliefs (ALL students can read, and I can teach and reach ALL students) as well as a change in practice.

Often, we attempt to resolve adaptive challenges with technical solutions. Or, we talk about scaling technical work, which is really replication, not scaling. Scaling isn’t about applying technical solutions in a different context; it’s about asking questions that generally lead to adaptations in the practice/solution/approach such that it is successful in the local context. Starr identifies six design principles that support superintendents (and other school leaders) in determining the fit for a specific change in their local context. Adaptive changes occurs as the result of asking the questions aligned to these principles and anchoring the change in strategy that is dynamic. I would offer as an example the Washington Center’s approach to a Theory of Change.

6 Principles for Systems-Level Change:

  • Values – What do we believe about students, families, and children, and why?
  • Governance – How do we make decisions, and who is involved, both formally and informally?
  • Resources – How do we allocate time, people, and money according to our needs and vision?
  • Content – What do children need to know and be able to do? Adults? How do we measure our progress? What are the indicators and measures of our success?
  • Talent – Who is doing the work? What supports do they need to achieve success?
  • Culture – How do we interact with each other in service of our goals?

Starr recommends the one-page approach to capturing the answer to these questions and then coupling that with a strategy for change. The above-mentioned theory of action is flexible and adaptable. It can support members of the organization in being clear about their respective role in transforming practice, identifying the measures of success, naming the structures and processes that enable reflection and adjustment, and speaking to the rationale for the change.

Monthly Checklist

These lists are intended as a guide—we encourage you to process in your mentor-mentee team to identify other items that may need your attention!