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Optimize Your School by Lee Jenkins is an essential resource for educational leaders. I recently read the title as a companion to The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. Jenkins operationalizes much of Senge’s excellent work.
Jenkins begins by defining what leadership looks like in a system based on continuous improvement. Leadership must combine top-down and bottom-up strategies to create continuous improvement. A school needs a direction but that direction must come from the individual professionals who work within the system.
The focus of chapter 1 is on the dos and do nots by John Maxwell in respect to continuous improvement. The first advice is to ditch the short term outlook. We must look at the long view to engage in continuous improvement. This focus on continuous will naturally remove educational leaders from the worst educational pactice of “meeting the numbers as explained by Jenkins on page 13 of Optimize Your School. Persistence is necessary for continuous improvement to happen and improvement of any sort should be celebrated.
Chapter 1 ends with a reminder of the difficult work ahead for any leader who seeks continuous improvement. This leads the reader into Jenkins’ idea of strategic continuous improvement in Chapter 2. Jenkin’s suggestions in chapter 2 revolve around respect for people.
Strategies such as pressure or ultimatums show little respect for the people engaged in the work. Those engaged in the work will create improvement.
Schools that excel begin by defining the perfect. Tthe importance of defining the perfect is detailed on page 23 of Optimize Your School. The perfect is necessary so that we can identify where we are now.
The chapter continues with an explanation of how important it is to determine the root causes of problems, the slow pace countermeasures require, the necessity of team work and the importance of leadership guidance from the top built by the ideas of those doing the work of the organization.
The removal of the things we do in education that create waste populates chapter 3. Jenkins identifies time wasters in 3 categories. Jenkins contends that the removal of these time wasters and enthusiasm wasters will create large increases in student performance. This leads the reader into a discussion of effectiveness in chapter 4. Jenkins advises organizations to ask why about the root cause of problems at least 5 times.
Chapter 5 of Optimize Your School offers practical solutions for improvement. On page 41 Jenkins says, “…if continuous improvement is in all aspects of a school district except for the classrooms, the work is for naught.” A keen reminder for educational leaders to focus the work on the daily work of the classrdoom.
Jenkins reminds the educational leader of the importance of teamwork in the classroom. Teamwork begins to happen when a class tracks their work and celebrates improvement.
Jenkins also asks, “Why do we only offer unit expectations for students 1 section of a time?” As Optimize Your School describes on pages 44-46, we should offer students the chance to explore all learning expectations so that they can reflect and make a plan based on what they know about themselves as learners.
Although chapter 5 is a bright spot in Optimize Your School, the practical strategies offered in the remaining chapters of the book will benefit educational leaders both as teachers in the classrooms and administrators who desire ways to tackle the work of continuous improvement.
Jenkins book led me to consider ways to facilitate students’ engagement and reflection in their own performance. The challenges of teaching in 2020-2021 showed me that I must continue to find ways to facilitate reflection processes for students.
In my experience, students have always struggled to retain vocabulary. My mindset change toward comprehension has helped students retain high frequency words. But this seems extremely dependent upon me. If I’m honest, there are many students ready to go farther than my classroom presence.
Insert the class vocabulary performance histogram. I created a spreadsheet of all core vocabulary words in our Latin program. This involved creating a cell for each possible form of each Latin word students should acquire throughout the program. Next I uploaded the spreadsheet terms into canvas using the respondus tool to create question banks for a vocabulary quiz.
Above is an example from one of my classes. We took the quiz 8 times throughout the semester, about once every 2 weeks. The quiz automatically pulls 20 random word forms from the canvas question banks. Optimize Your School suggests to use around 10% of the total questions. Although 20 is not 10%, I decided much more than that might seem too large.
Students see that more students scored below 10 half way through are attempts at attempt 4 and that every student either stayed consistent or improved on attempt 6. Jenkins recommends these quizzes to simply be formative without a grade in the gradebook. My classes decided they would like to earn 1 score at the end of this period based on improvement or consistent scores in the 12-15 range.
By the end of the year even Latin 1 had over 1,000 possible terms when all word forms were included. A few students didn’t see significant improvement in their scores. But when I looked closer at their specific quiz data I noticed that all students who attempted to define terms had started to acquire many of the endings.
This process helped more students connect to the patterns of Latin declensions and conjugations more than anything I’ve tried in my career, whether an explicit focus on form or a pop up lesson derived from students noticing patterns during attempts at comprehension.
Next, I plan to develop spreadsheet templates for students to track their individual performance. I will include goal setting and reflection on how much time students spend interacting with Latin words on their own time outside of class time. I will continue to monitor and display class data as well.
I used a similar process through a survey that students took after Self Directed Reading sessions. The goal was to monitor how many pages students were reading and how many words they understood in general. I learned a lesson as less students completed the survey as the semester went on. I’m certain this was because I made the survey longer than needed in an attempt to collect more data.
Next year the survey will include 3 simple questions:
- How many pages did you read?
- In general, how many words did you understand out of every 10 Latin words?
- Should you move up a level in reading?
I will encourage students to move up a level in reading when they consistently understand 9 out of 10 Latin words that they read. I will encourage students to move down a level in reading when they do not make progress toward understanding 8 out of 10 Latin words. Along with tracking the class data, students will use a template document to track their individual reading progress.
Jenkins’ Optimize Your School operationalizes the process of guiding students to consider continuous improvement. It is a powerful way to move performance from the teacher to the student. Do you see any ways this can help you transform your classroom?