I usually have to refrain from hugging superintendents. Well, principals too. And teachers, especially. Yesterday, in particular, was a celebration! As the small local educational agency (LEA), or district team, and I closed our meeting with smiles and feelings of success and empowerment, I felt it just wouldn’t have been right for me to hug everyone, so I refrained. But I really wanted to.
The superintendent of this “small in enrollment,” but “large in geographic area” district, its LEA Coach, and the principals of three SWIFT partner schools—two elementary schools and the middle school into which they feed—met with me to complete their District Data Snapshot. A District Data Snapshot is a technical assistance practice we use to foster meaningful discussion of pertinent school and district data, and to set the district’s SWIFT-related priorities. By reviewing this body of evidence, we intended to generate a list of local, state, and national resources with the potential to support the schools’ top three or four of these priorities. With this information in hand, the team also intended to make data-based decisions regarding their priorities and establish its next steps for action planning to support SWIFT schools’ transformation and to scale up SWIFT in other schools in the district.
We did a lot of preparation during the prior year to be ready to make these decisions. The district team, which included faculty, staff, and community members, developed a Visioning Statement describing how SWIFT features could look in their ideal future district. The principals and their school teams had also completed School Visioning Statements and Data Snapshots for setting their priorities for change. And we began our meeting that day with a review of active implementation evidence about how leadership, organization, and competency factors drive change processes, about how schools successfully implement evidence-based educational practices in stages, and about how these practices can be sustained and extended through continuous improvement cycles. But on that day, our purpose was to select priorities and identify resources that could help make their envisioned changes into reality.
The team quickly identified three priority areas that emerged from the data and were interconnected. They defined a goal “to provide on-going support (training and coaching) for teachers of students with high needs within both Behavior and Academic areas.” This goal both supported the current SWIFT partner site goals and action steps, and also led the way for scale-up in other schools. Once this goal was on the table, the team was ready and eager to begin creating some immediate and long term action steps. And we found a lot of resources to support the actions! Building level resources included specific people, specific roles, the schedule, and even rooms available for use. District and state resources included grants and professional development opportunities, as well as excellent leadership and a supportive school board.
During this conversation, the superintendent (who had been called out of the room three times for three different emergencies) grew more and more excited about the potential for this process and work to transfer to the district high school, as well as to other elementary and middle schools in the district. The two principals and LEA Coach were excited to begin to use the facilitation skills they’d learned through their work with the SWIFT Center to support this district level scale-up. We ended the meeting with energy, focus, and hope!
Can you blame me? This meeting took…one hour. Wouldn’t you have wanted to hug everyone in the room? Off each went to deal with the children who feel isolated and frustrated and who act out in their classrooms because it is the safest place they know. Off they went to continue to crunch numbers to make an equitable education for every child in their district. Off they went to talk with parents who were so proud of their kid that they just needed the principal’s time to digest the growth and progress. Off they went feeling accomplished, in control, successful, and hopeful! Tell me, wouldn’t you have ended with a hug?
– Maura Hart
I began working in Education as a middle and high school English teacher, during which time I earned my Master’s of Education Degree with Antioch University New England and began adjunct teaching for them. While I LOVED teaching in the public schools and working with my students, my life path took me on a different course. During the time when I had two babies and stayed home with them, I went to UMass to get my Ph.D. (it seemed like a good idea at the time…) This work brought me to consulting with schools and districts as a team facilitator and teacher trainer and coach. My experience with a district in Vermont introduced me to the SWIFT Center where I now work with amazingly talented and passionate educators who are committed to including all children in all classrooms.