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Defining What Matters

Posted by Francis Vigeant on Oct 31, 2016

Frequency of tribal stages

You will find all types of tribes in school systems, but large urban systems tend to concentrate members of tribes 1 through 4, while average school districts range from stage 2 to edging into stage 5. Suburban and rural districts tend to span stages 2 to 5.

Which range of tribes you find in a school is largely determined by the principal and the culture they've developed over time. But there are certainly other factors at play. While it's hard to say why large urban districts skew downward and rural districts skew upward, part of the reason may lie in the fact that in a suburban or rural environment, you have more permission for risk-taking. In a rural environment, after all, there are limited replacements for teachers, so they may have more job security, which allows them to feel safer taking risks.

In suburban environments, helicopter parents ensure that life isn't all about tests. Administrators can't set that focus because parents demand something beyond that. That's why a lot of suburban schools pride themselves on risk-taking, going beyond the bare minimum, and forgetting about the test. As a result, they achieve higher scores because they're not teaching down. They're actually teaching beyond.

Districts such as these understand what really matters: the why, the what, and the how. When classroom teachers and administrators are focusing on developing critical thinking skills in the classroom, having a growth mindset, and championing that mindset in their students, they have the greatest chance of instilling higher order thinking skills and aligning with the next generation model of inquiry and instruction.

Closed loop communication

Closed loop communication consists of each stakeholder group communicating with the others to ensure a continuous loop.

Communication is the No. 1 place leaders lose focus and buy-in. Being clear, being consistent, and being open is a must. Ensure you keep closed loop communication. This doesn't mean you need to wear your heart on your sleeve or put all of the school's business on display. It just means you have to make each stakeholder feel that their opinions on what really matters—those core values—are important.

When communication does fail, as it inevitably will in situations where multiple tribes are coexisting, it's important to deal with that failure as thoughtfully as possible. Look for the root of the issue in processes, practices, and understandings. Key questions to ask include:

  • What does the other party take issue with?
  • What do they believe will solve the issue?
  • What is the source of their understanding?
  • Is this an operational inconsistency?
  • How does this affect our mode of instruction?
  • How does this affect our values?
  • Which tribe(s) to they subscribe to?
  • What language are they speaking?
  • What language can they hear?

Otherwise, you have misalignments right from the get-go. You can't be successful in that case, nor can you instill a growth mindset in your classroom or teach in alignment with NGSS. In order to instill that mindset and to set appropriate challenges to students that stretch them past their current skill levels, you need excellent communication between tribal groups and within teams.

Effective STEM instruction absolutely depends upon maintaining this communication so that we can create environments that encourage higher order thinking skills and teach students to be true innovators. That way they'll be prepared for higher education and careers in STEM fields, helping pave the way toward a future United States that can compete globally in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math.

Topics: STEM

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