Doug Reeves Would Write Our SIP Plan . . .

Reeves, D. B. (2011). Finding your leadership focus: What matters most for student results. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Reeves, D. B. (2008). Reframing teacher leadership. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

First of all. Worst. Cover. Ever. The cover of Finding Your Leadership Focus: What Matters Most for Student Results (2011) looks like the worst 1982 self-help book you could find in a Reagan era Kroch’s and Brentano’s. It is really a shame, because I think this 150 page handbook should be at the side of every school administrator. I think it may have had a better chance at best seller status if it just had uh . . ., any other cover.

I bought this book after seeing Reeves’ keynote at the 2010 Learning Forward (formerly NSDC) conference in Atlanta. I was at the conference to present a session on implementation strategies for professional development programs. In my session, I summarized by own research on focus being a major challenge for those of us interested in effective, sustained professional development programs for teachers. So maybe I was primed to hear Reeves’ message, but his indictment of wide and thin implementation cut across a broad range of school reform initiatives far beyond my own interest in professional development. It really resonated.

Reeves’ books are great because he does an excellent job of collecting compelling research along with practical ways to reflect on the impact the findings can have on your own practice in the real world. It was Reeves’ summary of Hattie’s work that made me go back and read Visible Learning, which has become foundational for me personally. His books are unrelenting without being polemic. Can polemic be used as an adjective? Good thing none of the three of you are English teachers.

Reeves basically presents a powerful argument against the idea that our public schools are capable of implementing many new initiatives at the same time (Or at least capable of doing so in a way that would improve student learning). He argues that while there are many valuable foci a school could take on to improve student achievement, a successful reform effort must make choices and select a few excellent improvement programs from this list and dedicate itself to implementing these few initiatives deeply.

He recommends that schools not only be very selective about which new reform efforts they take on (see Hattie), but that they be disciplined in an effort to “weed the garden” of current initiatives in order to ameliorate “initiative fatigue”, a term that will resonate with most public school teachers (p.43; p.1).

The awesome thing about Reeves’ work, however, is that he doesn’t just rant about these ideas, but he also provides practical exercises, graphic organizers, self-assessments, and additional resources a school can use to try to practice what he preaches.

One of my favorite exercises he suggests in the book requires only a white board and a marker. He challenges school leaders to make a list of all of the initiatives they have adopted, and then draw a line and list all of the ones they have evaluated and eliminated within the last five years. Anyone in our profession can imagine what the likely distribution of those two lists would look like!

As a practicing school administrator, I can understand what critics might not like about this book. They might say the idea of deeply implementing a few initiatives is naive and unrealistic in a public, comprehensive high school with competing constituencies and demands.

I think Reeves actually answered these critics in an earlier book, Reframing Teacher Leadership (2008). In this earlier work, Reeves compiled extensive research on whether the depth of the implementation of a given reform is correlated with indicators of student achievement. This study found that there was a correlation, but that it was not linear.

In his discussion of the results, Reeves argues that one of the biggest challenges reformers face is “the myth of linearity,” under which educators assume that there is a one-to-one correlation between how deeply an initiative is implemented and how much it impacts student results (p.39). He noted that we too often fall prey to the assumption that minor implementation will equal minor achievement gains and moderate implementation will result in moderate achievement gains. Instead, the study indicated that the impact of implementation is nonlinear and that even moderate gains of student achievement are only realized once a reform has reached an extensive level of implementation.

Doug Reeves would write our School Improvement Plan because the plan would be short. The plan would identify a few powerful things we could work on to improve student learning, and then explain an action plan with goals, names, and due dates. It would also include a plan for monitoring the actions of the adults in charge of implementing the plan to chart their progress and identify ways to support them. The adults in charge of implementing the plan would not be given the excuse inherent in an unrealistically long list of so-called “priorities”.

Next On In A Perfect School . . .               Rick DuFour Would Run Our New Teacher Orientation. . .