“SURN takes the competition out of education.”
“I may be only one in my school system, but I am not alone.”
“This has been the best ‘hands down’ professional development,” said the participants.
These statements came from K-12 instructional leaders making an impact by working across school system lines during the School-University Research Network (SURN) Principal Academy. This two-year program consists of professional development days, intersession activities, coaching, and mentors using Visible Learning and leadership techniques. The program grew out of John Hattie’s challenge to SURN leaders attending a SURN leadership conference in 2010 and involves 55 urban, suburban, and rural leaders. SURN is currently a partnership of 28 public school systems, the Virginia Department of Education, and the College of William and Mary in Virginia, but is quickly spreading as individual principals in individual school systems replicate the high impact initiatives.
Ten mentors led job-alike teams of 45 participants from throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Participants ranged from new to the principalship, to working in challenging situations. Together they engaged in a series of professional development days throughout the year at The College of William and Mary. They visited each other’s schools to conduct collaborative observations and build their knowledge of high-yield strategies (e.g., explicit instruction, reciprocal teaching, metacognitive strategies, and feedback) identified in Visible Learning. The teams built a foundation of trust and knowledge. The leadership team members, consisting of assistant superintendents, college faculty, and a participating principal, observed that “The mentors cultivated a sense of team. The transfer of learning was evident from iMovies to data showing increased use of high yield strategies.”
Principals completed a minimum of 20 fall and 20 spring observations using the SURN Indicators of Student Engagement Tool. They conducted collaborative observations with each other and then trained their staffs to conduct them as well. The fall 2013 data provided evidence of the paradigm shift from watching the teacher, to observing student engagement. A principal reflected, “that in year 1 [of the Academy], I saw this as my task, but in year 2, I realized that this isn’t about me and that others should be involved and this is where we really grew.” Too often, teachers don’t receive clear feedback that impacts student engagement and learning. In this project, principals gather data in classroom observations using protocols based on John Hattie’s research, and provide timely, specific feedback to teachers.
This work rested on the foundation of education research from the Wallace Foundation, Visible Learning, and others, with Visible Learning for Teachers as the book study. Instructional leaders received access to a closed wiki containing professional development resources modeled during sessions that they could use with their faculties. Principals also received support from SURN staff to conduct action research analyzing teacher surveys and their data from classroom observations. This research was then used to identify school-wide strengths to celebrate, as well as identify common needs for professional development.
The impact spread across SURN Academy members and resulted in school system initiatives to adopt SURN observation tools. The joint observations used to increase inter-rater reliability, a hallmark of the Academy, are being replicated throughout the school systems as well. The opportunity to visit other schools, share experiences, and dialogue about the data is impactful. These focused conversations about the data, instructional practice, and student engagement strategies promote professional growth and create a need to know more.
A group of SURN Visible Leaders were so motivated by the research, they engaged in a self-funded study tour to New Zealand and Australia to learn more. While on this trip of a lifetime, they met with Dr. John Hattie and toured schools, including Stonefields School, to observe firsthand the Visible Learning strategies at work in different, but similar school settings.
During Jan Rozzelle’s session at the 2nd International Visible Learning Conference, she and a team of principals and a central office administrator will share their story about how a focus on high-yield strategies changed the dialogue, focus, and impact of actions on student learning. Join them to learn from several years of Visible Leaders work as you consider how to transfer the benefits to your setting. To register to see Jan Rozzelle present at the 2014 International Visible Learning Conference on Thursday, July 17th at 10:30am PT, please click here.