Hello, I hope you’re having a quiet, restful weekend. The view out my window is great right now: snow on the ground and along the branches, low winter sun, very Breughel. This Coaching Letter is ostensibly about the projects that I’m working on at the moment—because they are large and overwhelming and I can’t think about much else—but also about what they have in common, so it’s also about strategy, “an informed and intentional set of aligned choices about actions to generate a desired outcome” (Stevenson & Weiner, 2021), because everything seems to be converging around that right now.
The second iteration of the Acceleration Workshop begins on March 2. We ran it last summer, and we’ve been running an ongoing community of practice for some of the participants since then. And now that districts are looking towards next school year, and there is money from the federal government, we are seeing an increase in interest in having conversations about how NOT to be sucked into deficit-driven planning. And we have an answer to that, that we built last summer from research we did on other situations when there was mass interruption of schooling—although nothing has been of the scale of what we have seen in the last year. I documented all our sources here, and here is a similar document with the resources I’ve been curating for our next round of support for districts. And if you want to know more about our rationale, here’s the video I recorded to explain that, although I don’t think there’s anybody left who hasn’t seen it already because I’m pretty sure I’ve heard all the pithy comments that might possibly be made about it. I think you should also take a look at this Seattle Times article on acceleration in Highline Public Schools.
I said there is renewed interest in having conversations about post-pandemic planning; this time around there is a greater emphasis on deploying tutors and summer school. This makes sense to me, for obvious reasons, but I also know that this is where old-school mental models about tutoring and summer school present problems, because extra time in itself does not constitute an effective strategy. First, they need to be aligned with all the other supports for acceleration: prioritizing the curriculum, designing high quality tasks, instruction that responds to formative assessment, and building student perceived self-efficacy. AND, the tutoring and/or summer school have to be high quality. In other words, it is never enough to say that we will provide extra time—you should read this entry in Robert Slavin’s blog. You should also read this working paper from Annenberg on scaling up tutoring. And actually there are many great sources on the resource page I linked to earlier—I can’t summarize them all.
So to get back to strategy, the question is NOT should we provide tutoring and/or summer school, the question is under what circumstances would tutoring and/or summer school be an effective part of our strategy for accelerating learning? The new Acceleration Workshop has an added session that attempts to answer that question, and if you attended Acceleration Workshop 1 last summer, you are welcome to join us for that session—it’s Session 3, March 23, please email Bridget and she’ll give you the Zoom link and make sure there’s a breakout room for your district.
As I mentioned at the top, the reason I’ve been thinking so much about strategy is that it is central to so much of what I’ve been working on lately:

  • The Acceleration Workshop is all about strategy: our contention is that Acceleration might be developed not only as a strategy for recovering from the Covid shutdown, but also as a district strategy for raising achieving for all students moving forward.
  • We just hosted a webinar on strategic planning—influenced by Jennie’s and my book, of course, but also all the other tools and processes we use at the Center to work with districts on strategic planning. And as part of the preparation and planning for that, I re-read and read as many books on strategy as I could find time for. Of all the books I consulted—about a dozen, many of which I hope to write about in future Coaching Letters—the most useful was Being Strategic by Erika Andersen. It is particularly cool because she takes the big idea of strategy—that it is the choices you make about actions to generate a desired outcome—and plays it out at an individual rather than an organizational level. In other words, she makes the connection between our work on strategy and our work on coaching, which was both fabulous and humbling to read—it helped me see the connection in a way that I hadn’t really seen before, which was the humbling part. I really wish I had written the book.
  • I’m working on a book on coaching—with my buddies Kerry Lord and Sarah Woulfin—and I’m just finishing up the chapter on coaching and strategy, so that we can submit it as one of the sample chapters for the book proposal. The big idea here is that you can see coaching as a support for individual improvement of teachers and leaders, or you can see it more broadly as an organizational plan for professional learning, or you can see it strategically as a support for the district’s distinct and intentional approach to improvement.
  • And speaking of coaching, Kerry and I are planning two upcoming coaching workshops. We’re actually offering the first one, Coaching for Equity, twice: here’s the link to the March series, and here’s the link to the May series—I think the March series may be sold out already but I’m sure there are a few spots left for May. And then we are also offering the Coaching In-Depth, which is intended to “support coaches in sharpening their practice; consolidate lessons from the unique year we are in; and connect coaching to other improvement efforts in their schools and districts.” And of course, that last part is all about strategy.

I hope that I have conveyed that strategy should be central to the way that you think about improvement at all scales, from the individual to the institutional. However, I worry that I’m a one-trick pony, and that people will stop inviting me to parties.

Thank you all for all that you are doing in these continually trying times. I am impressed with the energy and enthusiasm that my colleagues, partners and clients are able to muster even when they are actually exhausted. If there is anything else I can do for you, please let me know. Best, Isobel
Isobel Stevenson, PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Ave
Hartford, CT 06106
Author of The Coaching Letter

Author with Jennie Weiner of The Strategy Playbook for Educational Leaders: Principles and Practices Routledge