Today is the first day of a very ambitious adult learning experience in Milford. There are 70 people here at Foran High School today—two teachers from each school, and all the building and central office administrators. We are here in preparation for the really ambitious part, which happens next week. Two teachers are going to teach two classes of rising 5th and 6th graders math, and the 70 adults who are here today are going to watch. Then the adult learners are going to debrief their observations, with the intent of developing and refining a shared understanding of high quality instruction in the district. Just to be clear, it’s not about math. The idea is to have these 70 key people from across the district have a shared experience that they will be asked to make meaning of, collectively, that will drive their thinking about what students’ experience of school should be.

The district has the goal of developing a shared understanding of high quality instruction. This means that teachers will be clear on the district’s position on what matters for students and what that will look like in their classrooms—not in the sense that the district’s position has been explained to them and translated into a rubric, but in the sense that they have a well-developed schema for high quality instruction.

What their definition of HQI is focused on (in their case: eliciting evidence, learning intentions and success criteria, task, feedback, relationships) is less important than that they have a focus that is research-based and connected in one direction to their vision of the learner, and in the other direction to all the other work in the district. It’s also clear that there’s nothing static about it—it is dynamic, and will be elaborated and refined as new knowledge is added to the system, from inside and outside the organization.

The district has been working hard on the overarching goal of building capacity and coherence. This is important because we have evidence that the highest performing school systems (and indeed, any organization) have a strategy that drives their work towards their goals, and so everything they do is aligned in service of that strategy—that’s the coherence part. And if we think of strategy as how you go about linking your aspirations with your capacity—that’s the capacity part. I don’t mean to be cute, but their strategy for improvement is to have a strategy for improvement—not just a set of goals, not a list of programs to be instituted, not a disconnected cluster of priority areas.

What makes HQI Live so powerful is how it connects the district vision for high quality instruction (in service of the vision of the learner) with building capacity of leaders and teachers (who are learning more about high quality instruction as they make meaning of the experience they are having today) while also providing feedback to the system (in the form of information about what additional capacity-building the teachers and leaders need AND helping to clarify and expand the shared understanding of high quality instruction).

I know that this is abstract, but it’s very hard to describe—a great example of how much better it is to show not tell. Mostly, I want you to take away from this:

  1. It’s really crucial to have a vision for what students should take from their educational experience;
  2. Just as important is a shared understanding of what high quality instruction looks like;
  3. Constructing that shared understanding is a matter of social learning theory in action;
  4. Leaders have to be really intentional and thoughtful about creating and implementing experiences and routines that tie together vision, capacity, and feedback while also doing the work in a manner that exemplifies what students should experience;
  5. The work also has to build relationships that will bolster future work.

This such great example of intentional leadership and strategy in action. It’s very easy for a day like today to become an end in itself—to lose sight of the fact that it is in service of a larger aim. Flying paper airplanes is really fun—not essential, but an added bonus. I’m so looking forward to next week when the kids show up!. I’ll keep you posted.

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