The creation of a shared instructional vision brings many benefits to a school or district. An instructional vision can provide a shared understanding of what instructional excellence looks, feels, and sounds like. It aligns classroom practices to a clear set of principles and expectations. It can also bring instructional unity to any district plagued with uncertainty about instructional practices. There is a common misconception that a superintendent should create an instructional vision in isolation and only rely on the most current research and best practices. And that once an instructional vision is in place and shared, then it will be easily understood, accepted, and adopted by district leaders, school leaders, teachers, staff, and students.
Build Excitement for the Instructional Vision through Collaboration
This series of events rarely happens. Some school leaders and teachers may comply. But compliance is not enough because school leaders and teachers are leaving the profession in record numbers. We suggest a different approach to creating an instructional vision. For example, a district in Connecticut, Middletown Public Schools, took a collaborative route to creating an instructional vision, and its impact has sparked genuine excitement from teachers, leaders, and district staff.
“Last year, our biggest concern was surviving the pandemic. We were focused on ensuring our students were safe. This year, as more things are returning back to normal, we want to prioritize the quality of instruction all of our students receive. This is why we needed an instructional vision. We needed to clarify what type of learning experiences every student will have in every classroom every single day.” - Assistant Superintendent, Jennifer Cannata.
Recruit a Steering Team to Incorporate Community Voices
Instead of the superintendent and district staff assembling in a conference room for hours debating over academic vocabulary, they changed their approach. They enlisted our support to help guide them throughout the process in creating an instructional vision. The first phase of the process was helping them determine who would serve on the Steering Team. Members of the Steering Team were charged with the actual writing and designing of the instructional vision. It was essential that the Steering Team be inclusive and representative of the school community. They used these guiding questions to help finalize their Steering Team:
Who on your team sits most closely to the work of the schools?
Which voices have been historically excluded from the strategic district conversations?
Who is most adversely affected by the challenges within the district?
Middletown Public School gathered a Steering Team of teachers, instructional coaches, school principals, and district leaders. This team was diverse in terms of race, gender, and experience to ensure all communities were represented. This was also the first time that many of the members of the Steering Team had worked together.
After assembling the Steering Team, Middletown Public Schools needed to devise a strategy that ensured all constituent voices would be heard. Their strategy included having three phases of data collection from all constituents. During the first phase, the team analyzed school culture and climate data from teachers and students and administered surveys to teachers. The second round included facilitating focus groups with students. The next phase included talking with instructional staff and teachers in one-on-one meetings and focus groups. The Steering Team was committed to ensuring that the instructional vision they designed reflected what they heard from the school community. After each round of engagement with constituents, they analyzed the data and used it to edit and revise their drafts of the instructional vision.
“Being able to collaborate with my peers and multiple stakeholders ensures this instructional vision represents what students want in terms of classroom experiences and defines instructional excellence for students.” - Steering Team Member
Communicate Your Instructional Vision
The last phase of this work involved developing a communications strategy for launching this instructional vision to all constituents within the district. Again, instead of the district meeting internally, they relied on the input of the school community. By speaking to teachers and leaders, they were able to determine the most effective messengers to share the instructional vision, the best platforms to deliver it, and the most effective way to communicate the new instructional vision.
The creation of the instructional vision took approximately four months. This process created a shared sense of ownership. The school community saw their ideas embedded within the instructional vision. The constant refinement based on constituent input and feedback also allowed the school community to see the responsiveness of the district. It has created excitement and a sense of connectedness and community throughout the district and is leading to more buy-in among teachers and coaches.
Need a thought partner to help you shape your instructional vision? Our consultants are here to help.
About Britteny Jacobs
Britteny enjoys supporting districts in creating equitable structures, so all students thrive. She enjoys traveling and cooking.