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Leadership and Activism

It’s Not The Numbers That Will Change Schools: Principles for Principals

“Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.” Albert Einstein

Just imagine you are a school principal and you attend a meeting with the superintendent and other principals across your district.  You learn from the “accountability person” that a KPI (key performance indicator) for your district is attendance and that the “numbers don’t look good.”  Every principal is charged with “improving attendance.”  As a principal, you “run a school”.  You will be “held accountable” for your attendance rate and know someone in “central office” is monitoring your data, your progress, and perhaps even your process.  What happens next?

On your drive back to school, do you call your secretary and ask him or her what your attendance rate is or whether or not attendance calls have been made for the day yet?  Once back at school, do you convene your teacher leaders and tell them that the district is tracking attendance and that the “numbers don’t look good”?  Do you look at your calendar to see when the next school improvement team meeting is?  Do you look at attendance reports by grade level and by teacher to see if you can find “where the problems are”?  Do you do the things that might help you “become a (wo)man of success” with respect to this KPI?

Or, do you do the things that might help you “become a (wo)man of value” with respect to this KPI? That is, do you ask yourself questions like:

  • Why are some kids not coming to school?  Why don’t some kids want to be at my school?  Read William Glasser’s The Quality School
  • What happens to students when they don’t come to school?  What are the consequences?  Are they the right consequences? See Douglas Reeves’ Leading to Change: Improving Student Attendance
  • How do we respond as a community when a student doesn’t come to school?  “It’s important to let students know that you’re aware of their absences and that you care that they’re in school,” Wisconsin Department of Instruction’s AYP Handbook section on Improving Attendance and Graduation

How principals respond to directives from central office as well as how they respond to other “pings” is critical in determining how those inputs will impact the classroom or not.  George Couros speaks to this a bit in his Are we connectors? blog post as does Matt Landahl in his It’s all about building culture post.  How do you respond to directives and pings?  Do you check them off of a list when they are minimally satisfied or do you learn from them to ultimately add value for your students?


About beckyfisher73

DEN Star Educator, NTTI Master Teacher, Director of Educational Technology and Professional Development, former HS math teacher, avid RVer, baseball fan. ____________________________________________________ Becky received a BA and MAT in Physics from the University of Virginia while working as a FORTRAN programmer for the University's Institute of Nuclear and Particle Physics. After assisting in an NSF-funded summer institute for Physics teachers, she committed to a career in public education. Over two decades later, she has been a classroom teacher, instructional technology specialist, and central office leader working diligently to change the landscape of public education by ensuring choices are made as close to the learner as possible!


4 thoughts on “It’s Not The Numbers That Will Change Schools: Principles for Principals

  1. My community college (and maybe all cc’s?) is being pushed, from above, to identify and asses “student learning outcomes” (SLO’s) for each course, department, program, etc. I don’t like that, and wanted to move things along in my own way. So I started giving ‘mastery tests’ on the topics I felt were most vital, that the students could retake until they got it. My teaching and assessment practices have shifted in a way I feel good about.

    Posted by Sue VanHattum | January 8, 2011, 12:13 pm
  2. Great questions, Becky – I wonder also about how we address and balance the importance of learning with being physically present at a school or in a class. If “asynchronous” is how a student learns best, or if a student’s learning can be independent of arriving at a certain place at a certain time, how do we become people who value the right KPI for that student, or even involve the student and his or her family in determining that KPI?

    Best regards,

    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 8, 2011, 3:23 pm
  3. Hey, this is great. Might there be something about school that makes it uncongenial for some kids to go? Does it feel meaningful and important to attend school? Would you want to go to school here, if you were a kid? Do you engage in things that feel like they matter, at school?

    Posted by Kirsten | January 9, 2011, 4:41 pm
  4. Hi Becky, I like your reflections on this! We have definitely gone “data” crazy and I believe that this has had a detrimental effect on the type of things that we are forced to care about in schools.

    In many cases, symptoms have been turned into diseases, and we run around trying to cure a symptom. But symptoms are symptoms and, as others here have pointed out, we need to spend more energy looking for the root causes.

    In your example (and I assume that the attendance issue is just an example), attendance data may, indeed, to be trying to tell us something, but failure to consider the points brought forward by both Chad and Kirsten guarantee that we haven’t developed the thinking required to actually deal with data in reflective ways.

    There are always simple solutions to improving numbers; they are usually quick, and they are usually ineffective, because they usually miss the point!

    Posted by Stephen Hurley | June 1, 2011, 5:10 am

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