I count myself fortunate to be part of an organization that encourages the launching and shipping of ideas, that embraces a ‘fail up’ culture of learning and achievement. This has empowered my colleagues and I to boldly try new ideas. Reflecting on the last few years, I can recall numerous wins and successes as well as a few that I’d love to ‘redo.’
Why do some initiatives go so well while others struggle or fail? What makes the difference?
In my first year as a division head, I recall our team was eager to help teachers give feedback to students about the newly created “mindsets.” Since the 6 mindsets were not yet reflected in the report cards, we decided it would be great for teachers to write comments about each of the mindsets for each student. We had heard other schools talk about similar approaches. We had a discussion in a team meeting and next thing you know, the decision was made and the initiative launched. And it was hugely unpopular. Teachers were upset. The amount of comments that actually had to be written were well beyond what they were used to writing. In fact, when we did the math, we realized it was a pretty unrealistic expectation. We regrouped, with feedback, and pivoted to designing rubrics that all teachers could use. Teachers gave input on the rubrics. In retrospect, we could have taken more time to enroll stakeholders and talk to other schools. We could have done the math. We could have piloted smaller versions of the comment writing with a select few volunteers. Or we could have thought of rubrics first.
In my second year, we launched a 1:1 Chromebook program. We took months researching, chatting with other schools, meeting with our Director of IT, and comparing different attributes of devices. We made a sound decision. We are still using Chromebooks today and they are appropriate for middle schoolers. The success was in the research and selection of the program. There were some folks who were not in favor of the decision, but we had solid and compelling reasons to share and ultimately, the majority of our community supported the initiative. We could have done a better job in the rollout, specifically, how we shared the info with parents. I recall a rather lengthy rising parent meeting where questions took over the agenda. And while we prepared for the classroom management portion with Hapara, we spent the next year or so reconfiguring the network and internet access to make sure it didn’t slow or crash.
In my fourth year, we finally cracked the code on summer grants. We chose 4 initiatives that were all interconnected. We went with pairs instead of individuals so there was always an element of collaboration. We met as a whole group and launched the initiatives with the faculty before school ended so they were all part of the process. We clarified the expectations by having grant recipients follow the design thinking process. We had dates set in advance for monthly check-ins and we provided resources in between. Each grant was allotted time in pre-planning to workshop with the whole team. These 4 grants allowed our team to go further faster. We are making great strides as each of these grants is part of our team’s wildly important goal to ‘expand learning measures.’
These are just a few reflections. I have many more. What reflections do you have? What initiatives have you launched? What made some victories and others fail ups?