If you are going to try to get better, you are inevitably going to make mistakes. How you see these mistakes are going to influence your progress and improvement. If you see mistakes as failures, you are not going to get far. If you instead see mistakes as lessons, you can use this missteps to get better.
I believe that instead of shying away from mistakes and trying to forget about them as quickly as possible, we should celebrate our mistakes. We should share our failures so that other may learn.
We should also share the experiences where things do not go as planned so that we create a culture where we see that getting better is not a linear path. Failures are part of the process. If you are not making mistakes, you are not pushing your self to get better.
This year, as a framework to be a better school, we started using Learning Sprints to organize our professional learning. This was hard, but worth it. We wanted to ensure that we were causing learning and wanted to get better at meeting the educational needs of our particular community. We made mistakes.
Below is a list of the biggest mistakes we made this year in implementing Learning Sprints. I hope that this helps others learn from our trials and also creates a culture throughout education where we can experiment and learn.
When we started we wanted to get all of our junior high teachers on board and rolling at the same time. We joined everyone, all 10 teachers into one group. After a time they started having difficult deciding on an area of learning that they could agree on. They also felt that the targets were too general for their needs.
Lesson: Keep groups smaller (2-4 people) and organize them around a unifying theme. This could be grade level or subject.
We created a schedule where we would meet to review our Learning Sprints every 4-5 weeks that was mostly outside of the schedule. We used professional development (PD) days (days when students are not at school), after school sessions, and a few blocks in the schedule. There were a few PD days when something came up and we were not able to meet to discuss our Learning Sprint. There were also some after school sessions where getting all teachers together was impossible because of extra-curricular activities (basketball, band, etc).
Lesson: Try, to the degree most possible, to organize collaboration time inside the schedule of the school day.
The message that we gave to teachers the most was that Learning Sprints was a way to improve student performance and learning. We were organizing this structure so that students could learn better. Teachers focused on the students and what they were doing for the students. They did not see that the actual focus of Learning Sprints is the professional development that they get, the improvement of their own teaching practice.
Lesson: Emphasize that Learning Sprints, and all other professional development, is most effective when teachers become better practitioners. When teacher have more strategies and are better at their craft, student performance improves.
Our focus was literacy this year at our school. To have accessible research I bought a copy of Visible Learning for Literacy (Hattie, et al.) for the teachers who were doing the Learning Sprints. Although most read through the book, we chose to focus on the strategies that were the most effective on Hattie’s list without consideration of the needs of our students. We started at the top of the list of effective practices and moved down.
Lesson: School communities are individual and their needs are different. Balance the effective practices with the needs of your students when choosing your focus.
We have learned a lot this year in implementing Learning Sprints. Ultimately, I believe that because of this way of organizing our learning we have made more progress that previously. We are committed to getting better. Part of this commitment is sharing our failures as lessons and giving ourselves the freedom to make mistakes.
I hope you learn from our failures and make a few yourself.