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Form Follows Function

There is a principle in architecture, science, design, and life, that form follows function.  We also know that systems are designed to get the outcomes they get. Linda Darling-Hammond’s keynote put that principle front and center when discussing standardized testing. If we want different outcomes, we must change the systems that create those outcomes.

Throughout Friday’s sessions, presenters challenged us to clearly define the outcomes we want for all students, then look at our processes, structures and capacity of individuals in the district to produce those outcomes. Each of these components should be specifically designed to achieve the desired student outcomes.  

In Julie Varnam’s, session “Leveraging SEL to Support Students Who Experience Trauma,” she and staff from RTI International discussed New Hanover County (N.C.) Schools' approach to aligning systems. Key to the work in New Hanover was breaking down silos that existed between departments and individuals. People do the work in a district and people must work collaboratively to coordinate their actions. Otherwise, students experience disconnection.  This work involved breaking down silos in a student’s experience, which also meant breaking down silos between departments and individuals.  To do this work, they mapped their initiatives throughout the system, identifying duplicate, ineffective, and effective programs. They then began the work of “tethering” their programming and planning work as a coordinated council. 

The session delivered by NIET and Knox County (Tenn.) Schools, “Continuous Improvement: The Power of Collective Leadership and Collaborative Learning,” discussed looking at the structures and routines that drive the continuous improvement process.  They focused on leadership teams and professional learning. Highlighted was the support of NIET to implement PLCs and Instructional Rounds. Discipline and structure provided through the partnership with NIET helped them build their capacity and create the system that improved.  

Sharon Locke, superintendent in Hartfort CT, initiated change in her district in mathematics by defining the skills students needed to demonstrate and the practices that teachers needed to utilize using NCTM’s “Principles into Action.  This was used to articulate a Theory of Action, tackling mathematics with a laser focus.  Over three years, the district focused their energies on mathematics only, and improved outcomes for students.  Ms. Locke recommended using the University of Washington Theory of Action tool.

As superintendents, we lead and design the systems that create our outcomes.  We may not be able to control all things; however, we can control many things and today’s presenters shared how their efficacy and disciplined approached improving student outcomes. David Brooks quoted Einstein in his keynote: “You will never solve problems at the same level of thinking that created them.” As leaders of change, we will never solve problems with the same strategies that created them.  We must be able to define the outcomes we want and design and implement new structures and processes to produce those outcomes. Harkening back to the theme of our conference, “The Personalization of Learning,” we are called upon to change the system that was designed to sort and separate, into one that sees and embraces the talents and needs of each child. We must then enact disciplined practice and ways of working with one another that will create the positive outcomes for all.

Thank you, AASA, for providing the time, talent and expertise to help us learn for and with one another and for challenging us to think differently about how our actions can change results.

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