All Students Thrive – Using “Simplexity” to Drive School Vision

How can a school or district leader create a vision that engages all stakeholders? School communities are complex institutions with the added variable of intricate human interactions. There is a myriad of directions a school path can take without a fully realized and implemented school vision. Is it possible to create a vision that is both entirely comprehensive yet understandable and manageable for all? I have been appointed to school leadership positions where the academic challenge required immediacy and a sense of urgency, but the capacity of the available human capital demanded intensive support to meet the needs of the community. How can a leader  build a critical mass of energy and talent to address a multitude of school issues in a short timeframe? I found my solution in the concept of simplexity;  simplifying complex tasks by implementing the fewest number of drivers or high-yield actions.

“Change really isn’t as hard as we thought if we capture people’s interest and give them enjoyable, worthwhile experiences.” “We are learning more about large-scale change, making it less complicated by focusing on a small number of ambitious goals with a coherent strategy that attends in concert to half a dozen or so key factors: intrinsic motivation, capacity building, transparency of results and practice, leadership at all levels, and a positive but assertive stance on progress…I call this “simplexity”–a small number of key factors that must be made to gel with large groups of people.”

Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy, and Change Knowledge, Michael Fullan, 2012

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The generic example of a school vision for an elementary school using simplexity.

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The school vision needs to fit inside the district’s focus. This particular district made community-focused schools as a priority; creating space in neighborhood schools to be a hub for parent and community engagement.

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The school non-negotiables identified and clarified the community norms and collective accountability. Ownership refers to the understanding collective responsibility that the school community has for the success and well-being of each and every child.

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Cycles of Inquiry have emerged from the Professional Learning Community research and work. Creating opportunities to review relevant data, identify weakness and strengths, plan and implement changes, and re-assess for progress over short periods of time builds self-sustaining systems for improvement. At my sites, we have implemented 3-week windows of time to assess skills, allow common planning time to implement new strategies, and use peer observation and modeling as a on-site professional development program to increase academic success.

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The implementation of the Cycles of Inquiry were systematically embedded across all key areas and conversations of the school community. Each week had a priority (data analysis, common planning and strategy implementation, sharing best practices and assessing for progress) and all school teams (Attendance, School Culture (PBIS), Instructional Leadership team, PLC, PD, and Coordination of Services Team(COST)) followed the same format for each weekly priority. Each priority had its own set of systems, rituals and protocols. For example: during “data week” all teams were participating in the same process with a different school area of focus.

COST is a school team that includes outside and in-district special education personnel, counselors, and mental health professionals to support students who are struggling in and out of the classroom. It also represented out gate-keeping team for special education and 504 referrals.

We initially started with the English Language Arts as the priority for the weekly Professional Learning Community teacher pull-out sessions. Mathematics was prioritized for the weekly all-staff professional development session. By mid-year, the Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) noticed a discrepancy in our reading scores and academic vocabulary development. Because of this information, we adjusted our PD time to cover Close reading and other reading comprehension strategies as a focus of our PD time. All PD was site-based and taught by teacher leaders on campus.

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The “Big Rocks” were identified early in the year and were determined to be the areas of growth for the school. Each “Big Rock” was included in the School Site Plan with aligned resources and budget priorities. All “Big Rocks” were vetted through the two main decision-making teams; School Culture and Instructional Leadership. The individual teams were responsible for creating “theories of action”, and  implementing “action plans”.

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The key levers were identified in the school vision.

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The areas of focus for all the key levers were also identified. This blueprint for success was posted and lived in all conversations throughout the school. As simple as the slide show is to understand and present, each concept and system had multiple layers of additional systems and connections: thus simplexity in action.

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