Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Simple Leadership Techniques Rubrics, Checklists, and Structured Collaboration: Checklists, Rubrics, and Regular Communication between Educators Can Help a District Set Its Most Important Goals, Create a Strategy to Achieve Them, and Ensure Proper Implementation

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Simple Leadership Techniques Rubrics, Checklists, and Structured Collaboration: Checklists, Rubrics, and Regular Communication between Educators Can Help a District Set Its Most Important Goals, Create a Strategy to Achieve Them, and Ensure Proper Implementation

Article excerpt

Many leaders find it difficult to manage sustained high-level organizational performance. Most institutions experience steadily declining results, flat-line stagnation, or roller-coaster performance. Without a doubt, there are many factors that explain our inability to create and sustain performance excellence. But as Richard Koch explains:

A great deal of what happens is unimportant and can be disregarded. Yet there are always a few forces that have an influence way beyond their numbers. These are the forces that must be identified and watched. If they are forces for good, we should multiply them. If they are forces we don't like, we need to think very carefully about how to neutralize them. (1998: 14)

There are two causes for failing to sustain performance excellence that bear close examination. First is that education has attention deficit disorder. Educators do not expect any strategy, program, or approach--no matter how potentially efficacious--to be implemented with fidelity for very long. Teachers and administrators have learned to hunker down and wait out each new improvement effort because so many have been proposed before.

Second is our inability to make sense of the vast amount of available research--information about best practices that is easily available, but which many teachers and administrators are unable or unmotivated to access due to competing demands on their time, lack of research skills, or their satisfaction with current practice that is comfortable and judged good enough.

Instead, school districts should institute a simple leadership technique--a combination of job aids (rubrics, checklists) and structured collaboration--in order to ensure that our best knowledge can be collected, broadcast, and grown.

THE CURRENT LANDSCAPE

Many central office and building administrators, teachers, and parents are unable to satisfactorily answer the following four questions:

* What are the most important goals that we are trying to achieve?

* What are the key organizational strategies that we believe will help us achieve our goals?

* How well are the strategies being implemented?

* Are the strategies working?

Few educators can provide convincing answers to these questions. I know that because I ask--many times each week. Although respondents sometimes compose a reply after some thought, I find a lack of coherence, specificity, and alignment when I pool their statements. I am left unconvinced. Equally troubling is that far too few principals and teachers can discuss, with confidence, their most important performance results: percent of students reading at or above grade level, percent of students mastering core academic standards, or three-year trend results for state testing. Clearly, many leaders have failed to implement a system that has impressed on stakeholders a sense of urgency about the gap between current and desired performance (Benjamin 2007a). They have failed to articulate the vision and strategy (if they exist) well enough or to identify methods and measures for determining to what extent strategies are being deployed and whether they are delivering results.

This is not a problem only for schools. Michael Mankins and Richard Steele (2005) surveyed executives from 197 companies worldwide in order to determine how effective they had been at translating strategy into performance improvements. They found that most companies fail to achieve their strategies' full potential and that most strategies deliver only about half to two-thirds of their potential. The reasons include poor communication of the strategy, unclear implementation steps and accountability for successful deployment, and inadequate performance monitoring linked with consequences and rewards for strategy deployment. Robert Kaplan and David Norton (2005) charge that leaders and organizations spend a lot of time developing strategy but very little time checking to make sure that strategy is implemented. …

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