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March 2, 2013

Turning the Flywheel

by Chris Lindholm

DLT 2-2013bLast Thursday I had the pleasure of helping to facilitate our third quarter District Leadership Team retreat.  The largest part of the day was spent in a three group rotation sharing our 2013-14 focus for district-wide work in curriculum, assessment, and professional development so Building Leadership Teams can begin planning for the year ahead.  The first two hours however, was my opportunity to engage all principals, two teachers from each school, and all district level directors, coordinators, and leaders (80+ people!!) in a celebration of our progress over the past couple of years and a look forward to the work ahead aligning all aspects of the district with our strategic plan.  We began in small groups discussing chapter 8 of Learning By Doing and reflecting on our progress implementing a district-wide professional learning community.  My journey with this group of leaders began two and a half years ago with a study of this book to begin grounding us in some common language, and it was refreshing to come back to it to check-in and see how far we’d come.
The large group sharing was indeed a celebration.  We celebrated true progress with the core conceptsDLT 2-2013a of a professional learning community including a shift of focus from teaching to learning, authentic and meaningful collaboration, real use of data to improve instruction, and ongoing learning throughout the organization.  Some mentioned appreciation for our common messages, for real structures to provide effective interventions, and inclusion of pre-K to adult learning leaders in our planning work.   We celebrated more dispersed leadership, implementation of our new Q-Comp plan, growing focus on common assessments, and more frequent processes that cultivate reciprocal accountability such as school board presentations and collaborative team presentations in large faculty groups.  We now have a digital curriculum library covering all content areas and curriculum leads beginning to take a stronger leadership role in that development work.  Indeed, the staff of ISD 191 has an incredible amount of progress over the past two + years to be proud of and celebrate, and yet somehow the feeling during that celebration seemed to indicate we were just beginning to see what this team can make happen when our efforts are aligned and focused in the same direction.  I sense there are larger celebrations ahead…

One of the frameworks introduced to us by @DCheesebrow from TeamWorks International as part of a strategic planning training

DLT 2-2013c

session is called “Whole System View.”   I believe a strong focus on this framework by district and school leaders is big part of why our celebration last Thursday was so much fun and such a strong indicator of great progress.  Frameworks are simple visuals or graphics that illustrate a concept creating simple, common language to discuss strategies, processes, etc…  The “whole system view” framework is simply a triangle with a bubble on each corner.  In one bubble write the word “culture” which is shown in an organization’s story, purpose, and ways of doing business. In another bubble write the word “organization” which represents the structures, policies, and systems in the organization.  Finally, in the third bubble write the word “work” representing the organizations processes, services and resources.  The magic of this framework is in application.  To address issues inside one of the three bubbles in this framework, leaders must focus their efforts on the other two bubbles.   Most of the contentious issues I have dealt with leading schools and districts fall inside the “culture” bubble and this has certainly been true in my first two and a half years in 191.  As a results we have focused a great deal of energy on establishing new structures more aligned with our mission and on creating meaningful, ongoing processes focused on continuous improvement.  We’ve created building leadership teams led by our district leadership team, curriculum lead positions, instructional coach positions, both school and district level collaborative teams, and collaborative work groups focused on leading specific district wide programs such as PBIS, AVID, and tech integration.  And with these structures we have created ongoing processes for creating improvement plans, monitoring results, and sharing those results through safe, results oriented protocols that cultivate reciprocal accountability.  The celebration last Thursday was wonderful evidence that our collaborative efforts to improve our structures and our processes are indeed beginning to result in a district-wide culture that is much more collaborative, more focused on results, and more focused on learning.

Over the next three months our Building Leadership Teams will be engaged in the hard work of evaluating their 2012-13 improvement plans while simultaneously developing their plans for 2013-14.  It’s exciting to finally have that process taking place during the right time of year in our annual cycle and to support their work with solid district plans being rolled out.  I’m tremendously grateful for the work of our Teaching and Learning Team getting those plans in place and for the 200+ teacher leaders beginning to dial in on the year ahead setting challenging goals for all of us to get after.  Jim Collins talks about how it takes a huge amount of effort to get a giant flywheel turning and how once turning it begins to pick up speed.  Turn after turn, the flywheel becomes its own force of synergy picking up momentum and bringing all parts of the organization with it.  The sharing last Thursday by 80+ teachers, principals, directors, coordinators, and coaches is a real indication that the flywheel in 191 has indeed made several revolutions and is gaining speed.  How cool is that?  The days ahead are bright!

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