Real Talk

Breaking through the Cage: Bold Leadership

by Rebecca Meyer

Educational leaders are called to act with heroic efforts to ensure children have access to academic outcomes leading to bright futures. After marinating on the robust conversations with colleagues and profound ideas shared by Rick Hess, I am left with renewed hope for the future of our profession and success of our students.

Two salient points have stuck with me from the insights shared in Cage-Busting Leadership that will serve educational leaders as we work to build the foundation for successful futures for students:

  • The first is to find clarity by precisely identifying the challenge that is the barrier to progress. This can be done effectively by asking Why repeatedly to clearly identify the root cause of the problem or limiting belief. This process will allow you to uncover what has been limiting your success and assist in developing ideas and/or processes for improvement that previously did not seem feasible. Pushing forward and finding creative ways to operate in the best interest of students takes perseverance and courage.
  • The second is to measure progress with useful markers that align with your goal, not just assessment scores. Identifying what these markers will be collaboratively with educators and families is a critical step in ensuring that everyone understands the why and how progress will be monitored. Regular progress monitoring should be done to make any mid-course corrections that may be needed. This also serves as a reinforcement for the goal and clear focus for the team. Mutual consensus and a collective effort moving in the same direction builds cohesion and a greater likelihood of accomplishing the goal.

When I reflect on my role as Assessment Director for the Clark County School District, these two ideas will serve as important tools to assist schools with implementing the newly revised grading regulation concerning how we report student progress. Challenges in implementing the first two priorities; using a balanced grading scale (50%-100%) and removing behaviors from the academic grading process, have left some of our schools struggling to provide this consistency and academic opportunity to all learners. Changing mindsets may seem to be an impossible task but Rick reminds us to understand the why to break out of the cage of policy to truly understand what is possible. When I think of the why behind grading reform, it is to provide equity and accuracy in reporting student progress, resulting in more meaningful grades reflective of what students know and can do. The why is encompassed in the fundamental understanding that students learn at different rates and providing an environment where mistakes are a natural part of learning and not punitive promotes higher achievement. The update to the grading regulation honors this fact and provides all students the grace to fall without equating to failure, but rather providing the opportunity for deeper learning to improve outcomes.

Focusing on the why is the first step when struggles occur with differing philosophies to ensure all are moving forward in the same direction. Honest methods to obtain feedback on barriers or friction is a critical next step. In addition, having expert educators who can serve as a model to support others struggling with implementation is a necessity, based on the testimony of others cited in the literature, when moving boulders this size.

Lastly, understanding the language in the grading regulation will assist with providing the latitude schools need to implement successfully from wherever they are on the continuum. The regulation is written with broad themes to provide a level of consistency amongst 360 schools; however, it leaves a great deal of room for school leaders and educators to craft what this looks like for their students. It would be wise to understand policy deals with the floor and not the ceiling. This understanding aids in creative implementation to gain traction and ensure the success of educators and students resulting in more effective teaching and learning.

In conclusion, leaders can use these principles to guide decision making when identifying priorities and establishing aligned goals. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. Always ask why, then ask again and again until a path through the language can be found to meet basic requirements while still moving in a forward trajectory towards the goal – – improving student outcomes.