As we told you last month, we spent a good part of our summer turning the mastery mirror on ourselves. As part of this process, we took a good hard look at the schools where we’ve been the most successful and those in which we were able to make far less of an impact. We wanted to know what separated the schools and individuals who experienced dramatic results from those with lackluster results. We wondered what differentiated between a school or district that leveraged our resources to make real and lasting improvements and one who sadly, made very little growth at all.
We discovered something really interesting. The critical difference had nothing to do with how much money a district had or the popularity of the reform model they used. The difference was consistency. As Jim Collins puts it, “The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change. The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.”
One of the reasons we focus on principles instead of quick fixes is because we know that there are no magic bullets, no secret programs that can miraculously transform a school. Real transformation, real improvement takes time. And work. And commitment. We’ve worked in schools where nothing happens for a year or two and then all of a sudden, boom! A dramatic turnaround. One school we partnered with consistently applied the principles of effective instruction for almost three years and only saw modest gains. But, in Year 3 its passing rate on the state test shot up almost 50 percentage points, suspensions went down by 20% and staff morale and school climate scores soared to over 80%. The school is being touted as an amazing turn-around story. But we know that the apparent overnight success actually took years of hard work. Another teacher we worked with worked hard on her own to change her practice using several of our resources. Year 1, she saw a few gains in her students’ test scores but nothing earth shattering. But year two, her test scores were the highest in her school.
You don’t experience those kinds of gains lurching from one reform model to the next. The yo-yo approach to reform leaves schools burned out, cynical and broke as they continue to invest in the latest curriculum product, professional development program, or educational guru. Chasing every new fad, incessant benchmarking, looking for the latest quick fix means that you never do the hard work actually creating change.
There’s no getting around it. If you want to enable lasting change, if you want to experience lasting results, you have to stay consistent in good times and bad.
You have to tolerate that it won’t happen right away and you have to trust yourself and your process enough to ride out the tough times, knowing that if you remain committed and consistent, a change is gonna come.
We know that’s a lot harder to do if you’re a teacher. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when your district adopts new curricula, issues new policies, or embraces a new reform model every year. But even if your district is inconsistent, it doesn’t mean that you have to be. The beauty of the principles of effective instruction is that they are flexible enough that they can be applied no matter what the new policy, curriculum, or reform model you are required to implement. By investing in principles, you can stay consistent even if everything around you is in turmoil.