Managing at the Speed of Light: Principals Lead TQM Teams

by DR. JAMES E. ABBOTT, Principal 153rd Elementary School Los Angeles Unified School District Los Angeles, Calif. In January 1993, 140 schools across California received Senate Bill 1274 funding to restructure their schools as part of the California Center for School Restructuring program. The three overarching components of this re-engineering production were: • Create Learning Communities • Invent an Authentic Accountability Model • Celebrate Success with Protocol Presentations A Learning Community Dr. Roland Barth, senior lecturer in Education at Harvard University, envisions a "learning community" as one where all the shareholders engage, collaboratively, in lifelong learning to resolve issues. Peter Senge, director of Systems Thinking and Organizational Learning at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, thinks his community-known as a Learning Organization-is a place where people are continually discovering interrelationships and incorporating generative learning to recognize customer definitions of quality. A true Learning Community should be one where each individual must have a demonstrated passion for quality. For Senate Bill 1274 (SB 1274) schools to accomplish this metamorphosis, all stakeholders had to be valued. In this new culture, everyone would need to internalize that schools are a marketplace for ideas and that the most important resource was the human resource. A vision for meaningful change is a human endeavor. When parent and staff members collaborate on behalf of young people, they are capable of creating windows of light for generations to come. The California Center for School Restructuring provided training for schools to encourage the growth and development of Learning Communities. The fundamental thrust was that an instructional program d'es not exist in a vacuum. Schools would hold themselves accountable for student achievement by working together as an educational community. Each school principal accepted the challenge to develop a high-performance team at his or her site, dedicated to changing the school culture. Each principal realized there was a critical need to create a community of leaders for entry on the Educational Superhighway of Restructuring. Authentic Accountability The centerpiece of many restructuring efforts in schools includes an alternative assessment model for student work. Visions of student portfolios, exhibitions and critical-skills tests immediately come to mind. Each SB 1274 school was given the responsibility of developing and customizing its own "School Change Portfolio." Effective assessment tools "challenge schools to take responsibility for teaching their students to ask questions, to take risks, to make connections, and to do rigorous intellectual work."1 Meaningful feedback on these processes had to be achieved internally for the school culture to comprehend if it was accomplishing what it had set out to measure. The SB 1274 project required participating schools to devise a School Change Portfolio as a tool for determining success. Schools would use this to hold themselves accountable by including such documents as artifacts, student/adult work and videotapes of school learning. It would be a way to devise a true outcome focus that would translate visions to measurable, realistic outcomes that would "capture what matters most-what knowledge, skills, capacities, habits and attitudes ought to reside in every student as a result of their experience in public schools."1 Hard & Fuzzy Quality Indicators At Bandini Street School, in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the model used to improve student achievement is a result of the teaching faculty participating in extended conversations, which take place during the school day. In striving to improve student achievement, Bandini's teachers have identified "Hard Logic" and "Fuzzy Logic" quality indicators that critically affect the successful implementation of Bandini's mission statement. These quality indicators "assist in identifying trends," help make projections by targeting future needs, and allow each school to establish its own roadmap to quality. Hard Logic data is associated with left brain, quantitative measurements at each school, while Fuzzy Logic data is right brain, intuitive qualitative information. By looking at a school holistically, and understanding the interrelationships between the quality indicators, we can better resolve issues and create effective processes. Bandini's four major quality indicators are: Hard Logic Classroom: Academic Achievement Data Curriculum: Learning Program Scope Data Fuzzy Logic Culture: School Climate Data Community: Human/Corporate Resource Data A performance-based portfolio provides a school with a variety of opportunities to demonstrate proficiencies. Brief examples of items to include in an Authentic Accountability Portfolio are listed in Figure 1. Compilation of such information is imperative. The LEARN initiative (Los Angeles Educational Alliance to Restructure Now) has encouraged participating schools to develop Action Plans for change that are based on similar continuous assessment quality indicators as those practiced at Bandini Street School. By analyzing data from a variety of sources, answers to questions about the overall effectiveness of a school can begin to crystalize.2 "Goals and objectives are great, but can become futile statements"2 unless basic questions can be addressed such as: • What are we trying to accomplish? • How is it to be done? • What resources are required to improve outcomes? • How are we measuring for success? The California Center for School Restructuring anticipates many models of School Change Portfolios so that each site may create a "rich system of internal accountability and learning."3 This is a venture into unknown territory. It is also the initiation of a process, managed by each school principal, which assures a recommitment on the part of the individuals from the school culture and insures an impetus for continuous improvement. Quality is a journey-not a destination. The Protocol: A TQM Feedback Tool The Protocol is a tool for collaborative inquiry and feedback formulated by the California Center for School Restructuring. The Protocol's standard format consists of a group of stakeholders from one school making an oral presentation about their learning programs and teaching activities to a second school. Time is allocated for the presenting team to show slides of activities and hard data or videotapes of actual lessons. The viewing school then has an opportunity to make inquiries or ask clarifying questions about what they have seen and heard. After completing this process, the participants then reverse roles and the presenting school becomes the inquiring team. The purpose of this process is to provide a platform to engage in critical dialogue. This practice is meant to allow for considerable self evaluation and to gain valuable insights from the inquiring team. Roland Barth calls this process the sharing of craft knowledge. It is one of the most difficult and yet most valuable processes the educational community can embrace. By sharing, we break the constraints of institutionalized isolationism at our schools. There are many variations of the standard format, but the main function of The Protocol is to have the teams analyze, reflect and refocus on student work in an honest and open fashion. If systemic change is to occur, it must come from within. It must have student achievement as the clear objective. By understanding the processes that can improve student achievement, schools can-in time-learn to manage the processes and pursue continuous improvement of outcomes. Mark Iacuaniello, Principal of Laytonville High School in Laytonville, proclaims, "We're using the process to leverage real change in what and how students learn." Keith Nomura, Principal at Thousand Oaks Elementary in Berkeley, sees "the kinds of critical reflection and collegial dialogue promoted by frequent Protocol discussions" as "becoming ingrained in the Thousand Oaks school culture."4 Variations of The Protocol include one reported by John Lamer, Regional Fellow for Oceana High School in San Mateo County, where peer coaching teams have been formed: "Teachers observe each other in classrooms and then provide mutual feedback and analysis, in part through an abbreviated form of The Protocol." Ginger Hovenic, Principal of Clear View Elementary in San Diego County, has students using The Protocol to evaluate their own work.4 Two of the LEARN schools, in Los Angeles, have been participants in the SB 1274 process: Woodlawn Avenue and Foshay Learning Center. At an April 1995 Spring Conference, they demonstrated The Protocol for the other 31 schools involved in the initial training phase of LEARN. Dan Katzir, of LEARN, regards The Protocol as an excellent "authentic assessment tool for looking at student work and to stimulate schoolwide change." How Collaboration & TQM Helps Reform All 140 California Center for School Restructuring schools have met at spring weekend symposiums over the past two years to share their progress. Kathryn Swank, principal of Woodlawn Elementary School, a LEARN school in Los Angeles , reflected on the success of the initial conference: "I found the symposium to be extremely valuable. It was exciting to get ideas from other schools because it helped us focus on areas that needed attention. In addition, the training of the participants led to a higher quality of questioning to get at the core of improving accountability." As for myself, the most interesting aspect of The Protocol are the effective variations of the standard format. To foster the kind of transformational leadership that Barth5 and Donaldson6 champion, it is expected that shareholders of the school community collaborate in meaningful focus groups.7 The possibilities are limitless. For instance, Linda Rose, coordinator of UCLA's doctoral program in Education, has initiated Saturday conversations for her students during the 1995-96 academic year to encourage dialogue about, and exchange of, innovative practices. Ted Mitchell, Dean of the UCLA School of Education and one of the founding fathers of the LEARN initiative, understands the value of conversational formats like The Protocol because, "it combines self reflection, authentic assessment and peer accountability." Each school in the California Center for School Restructuring has embarked on a journey to gain comprehensive understanding of the processes that need to be harnessed in the pursuit of a "Quality Education Program"-one that ensures powerful learning opportunities for each student. No learning community will be perfect; no single School Change Portfolio is meant to present a perfect picture of success. The Protocol is designed for analysis and reflection, so that the school may incorporate meaningful feedback to improve the existing program. If an authentic system of accountability can be achieved, it must come from within. Shareholders at schools know their strengths and weaknesses. The road to a meaningful educational experience involves "assessing outcomes, making judgments regarding their effectiveness and providing information to stakeholders that can be useful in making future decisions."8 The California Center for School Restructuring has established practices that encourage partnerships in the educational community, that foster an enlightened school culture, and that set the table for an enterprising journey to quality. The Authentic Accountability model and Protocol process are a viable means to encourage visionary growth managed at the speed of light to keep pace with the needs of the ever-evolving school. When d'es such a prodigious journey begin for a school? As the adage g'es: "A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships were made for." n James Abbott is a school principal in the Los Angeles Unified School District, formerly at Bandini Street Elementary School. An author of professional articles as well as a recent book on school reform, The Restructuring of the Los Angeles Unified School District (Q.M.), he is also a Charter Member of the UCLA Principal's Center, a part-time Visiting Professor at several Southern California universities, and a consultant specializing in TQM, Learning Organization Disciplines and Chaology Science. His current research is about the next wave of TQM applications: Chaos Leadership, Extended Conversations and the Metaphysics of Quality. E-mail: [email protected] References: 1. Podl, Jody Brown, (1993), "The Process of Planning backwards: Stories from Three Schools," Coalition of Essential Schools, Brown University, Providence, RI. 2. Herman, Jerry J. (Sept. 1989), "A Vision for the Future: Site Based Strategic Planning," NASSP Bulletin. 3. Lambert, Morgan Dale & Eckert-Willner, Carol, (March 1994), "A First Draft of an Accountability/Learning System," California Center for School Restructuring, Redwood City, CA. 4. Lambert, Morgan Dale, (March 1994), "Reflections of Learning Communities," California Center for School Restructuring, 1(1). 5. Barth, Roland (1990), Improving Schools From Within: Teachers, Parents and Principals Can Make the Difference, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA. 6. Donaldson, Gordon A. & Marnick, George F., (1995) Becoming Better Leaders: The Challenge of Improving Student Learning, Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA. 7. Abbott, James E., (1994) The Restructuring of the Los Angeles Unified School District: When Dinosaurs Learned How to Dance, Q.M. Publications, Las Vegas, NV. 8. Guthrie, J.W., Garms, W.I. & Pierce, L.C., (1988), School Finance and Educational Policy: Enhancing Educational Efficiency, Equality and Choice, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.