Success is Systematic


One of my favorite education authors is Mike Schmoker. In his book Focus he writes, “Simplicity, clarity, and priority are intimately linked. For an organization to maintain a focus on its highest priorities, it must simplify and repeatedly clarify them so that everyone in the organization knows implicitly what to do and what not to do…priorities are fragile and high-maintenance. Without frequent, repeated clarification, we start to drift from them.” (p. 16) You can purchase his book here:

If you replace the word organization with “school” or “classroom” and think of the leaders in that organization as teachers and principals you may begin to see why I find Schmoker’s work so valuable. If you want to move the teachers and students in your building forward you have to simplify and communicate. Real success lies in your ability to answer the following [my thoughts not Schmoker’s]:

Who: Who do you need to be involved?

What: What exactly do you want to come of your work?

When: When do you expect to see results?

Where: Where will this take place?

Why: This is the most important question. Why are you doing this work?

How: How will this get accomplished with what you have?

Let me give you a principal lens for this kind of thinking. As a principal I may want to be sure that my teachers practice writing across the curriculum with fidelity

Who: Teachers

What: Integrate writing into each subject via notes, essays, and paragraph summaries of learning

When: Daily

Where: In all classes

Why: Because student test scores indicate that they need more practice reading, writing, summarizing, and notetaking

How: 1. We will have a building wide note taking strategy  2. We will have a building wide expectation for paragraph writing   3. We will have a building wide rubric for scoring student writing

Do you see my point here? The focus is just ensuring that students get to write in every class because data indicates that it is an area of need. The way to be sure that writing across the curriculum is done with fidelity is to be sure that the entire building understands what notes look like in every class, what paragraphs should look like in every class and what expectations for essay writing are in every class and then focus only on that for the rest of the year. Communicate its importance and make it the focus of walk throughs. Make it the focus of PD. Make it the one thing for the building and student scores will move.

Back to Schmoker… here is a quick video of him explaining how we have made school improvement complicated when it is a simple undertaking.

Here he is talking about how principals can use what they have on hand to improve schools

Listen, we all know that student and teacher success is the goal of education. With that in mind, we can’t achieve success if we are in the words of Gary Kellor “chasing two rabbits”. We have to determine what data says we need to accomplish most and do that every day for a school year in order to change outcomes. Remember, to lead is to constantly learn and while others may not tell you the truth, I always will. You need to be focused in your approach if you are ever going to change the way things have always been. – Dr. Kia