We are three fourths of the way through the second Acceleration Workshop; Session 3, for which there were around 450 people registered, was on Tuesday. Our work on Acceleration has certainly garnered a lot of attention—in the last couple of weeks, we have been asked to present to several different groups, including superintendents, professional organizations, and state departments of education. So I’m sure there will be more to say in the coming weeks. And the Acceleration Workshop is being offered again:
June 28, 29, 30 & July 1, 10am – noon EDT. Click here for the flyer. Click here to register.

All very exciting and gratifying, of course, but has also made me realize how much more work there is to be done. This iteration of the workshop, and especially Session 3, was probably of most use to districts that are currently thinking about summer school and how to spend their recovery funds. The June workshop will probably be of most use to districts thinking about how to create coherence and capacity around their approach to welcoming back students full time and in person—not because the content of the workshop, but because of the timing—a huge part of our message is that we have to challenge existing mental models about remediation and differentiation.

If you are currently planning services for students outside the regular school day or year and can’t wait until June to start planning, I suggest you consult the following resources:

Avoiding the Errors of Supplemental Educational Services (SES) 
Summer Learning Planning Resources and Toolkit 
Getting to Work on Summer Learning; Recommended Practices for Success, 2nd Ed.
A Blueprint for Scaling Tutoring Across Public Schools

I can’t help but draw parallels here between the research on the extraordinarily weak, and sometimes damaging, effects of Supplemental Education Services enacted under No Child Left Behind (as documented in Slavin’s blog, which is the first link in the list above) and themes that appear often in The Coaching Letter:

  1. Whatever your theory of action for a program/project/initiative/strategy is when you start out, it is definitely incomplete and may be totally wrong. For more on this, see the books Learning to Improve and Instructional Rounds (especially chapter 2) and The Strategy Playbook. You have to spend time unpacking the assumptions that are built in to your theory—but because it’s yours, you are unlikely to see all its flaws, so show it to the people who are closest to, or most affected by, its enactment; they are the ones who will tell you what could go wrong. For more on seeking out disconfirming data, read anything by Chris Argyris on action science. To carry out a pre-mortem (very useful! a good practice to practice!) see this one-page resource and this Coaching Letter (thank you again, Gus).
  2. Read the research. This, in the age of Google Scholar, is easier than ever to do. The reason for doing this is to understand the nuance and complications embedded, but glossed over, in terminology like voice, differentiation, personalization, engagement, and so on. These are intellectual shortcuts and while it is easy to assume that a) these are good things and b) we all mean the same by them, neither of these is necessarily the case. Instead, you have to…
  3. Chase down the variation. We have become used to the concept of the effect size (OK, I know there is a whole technical discussion about the concept of the effect size, but I would have to read up on that to comment on it, so instead I recommend that you read the section on effect sizes in Dylan Wiliam’s book Leadership for Teacher Learning, or this chapter by Dylan Wiliam, or the discussion in this blog, which includes comment from Dylan Wiliam), but the effect size hides differences in results created by differences in implementation. This is why you have heard, from time to time, so much emphasis on fidelity of implementation, which has tended to fall on the shoulders of the educators closest to enactment (usually teachers). BUT there are other factors important here that are not always in the control of teachers that may also be important in explaining variation in outcomes, such as the training needed, support from administration, resources encumbered, and so on. There’s a whole chapter on leadership in The Strategy Playbook that deals with these concerns.
  4. Clarity and communication are important and necessary, but not sufficient. What we should be aiming for are alignment and coherence. Alignment is the idea that all the systems and structures, including policies and position statements, are in fact saying the same thing and working in concert; for example, that departments are not “siloed” and you get the same answer about what to do no matter whom you ask; or that your strategic plan says the same thing about instruction as your teacher evaluation plan AND your SRBI/RtI/MTSS plan. Coherence is the idea that everyone should have a shared understanding of—well, whatever it is you’re talking about. The Strategy Playbook has a whole chapter devoted to creating a shared understanding of high quality instruction.

Honestly, I wasn’t setting out to sell The Strategy Playbook when I started writing this Coaching Letter; but it shouldn’t be a surprise that the ideas that I write about here are a close match with what Jennie and I wrote in the book.

One more thing. If you don’t already use Google Scholar, it’s worth spending some time learning about it. Here are the Search Tips from Google, and I went looking for a YouTube video for you to watch but couldn’t find one that I liked, so I made one. It’s literally 5 minutes, but the little picture of me obscures the Google Scholar extension icon, so if you want to add that to your Chrome, click here. If you have feedback on the video, I give you permission to keep it to yourself—I don’t want to set any expectations around what I’m able to pull off on a Sunday morning.

In all other things, however, I welcome your feedback and suggestions—really. We are fielding a lot of inquiries right now about Acceleration, but we do a lot of other things! Check the section of our website on Social Justice and Equity; here is the page with our institutes and workshops—register now for Coaching In-Depth—Coaching for Equity is sold out for May, but we will be adding new dates soon for that, and also for the Introduction to Coaching workshop; and here is the Coaching Letter archive. And if you know anyone who would benefit from receiving the Coaching Letter, please give them this link—thank you.
Thanks so much for all you have done and continue to do. Spring is always a hopeful time, but it feels even more so this year. 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