Here’s what we know: resourceful schools do more with less. In other words, they are successful regardless of the resources at hand and here’s why. Successful schools are focused. They do more with less by design. They limit their initiatives to a few strategic priorities (this is the “less” part) and make sure they are implemented deeply and fully (this is the “more” part). If you talk with staff at successful schools, you’ll find collective priorities. While this is common practice among high performing organizations, what I call strategic focus is less common in education. When it’s in place, however, staff learn from one another, cultures exhibit more collaboration than competition, and good ideas are actually implemented to the point that they benefit students. Worthwhile ideas are plentiful. Deep implementation of good ideas is not and for that you need clear and limited priorities and permission to say no. Again – do more with less.
Here’s what we also know: struggling schools do less with more. Many schools are such an amalgamation of programs that collaborative practice, long known to be key to continuous improvement, fails because everyone is doing something different. I find educators consistently exhausted from the number of initiatives to implement or orchestrate. It’s not that the programs adopted over the years aren’t fantastic ideas. But until and unless those fantastic ideas are implemented well, they are unable to impact students with the promised results. And here’s what we also know. All of us are limited in how much we are able to learn and implement at one time, especially if that something new involves changing practice. Teachers consistently ask for the time to learn something new before adding another initiative. This is precisely why principals tend to act as “rodeo clowns,” buffering their teachers from well-intended central office mandates.
If you’re not yet convinced, here’s what I have observed strategic focus to also accomplish as a hidden opportunity in our unsettled economy. Smart school leaders have used the opportunity of dwindling resources to focus their work, doing less, but with more fidelity and implementation. Contrast this to a budgeting process that cuts existing programs so that little is adequately resourced but everything is expected – with results that were never realized even when fully funded. Resourceful schools have leaders who find every opportunity to do less, thereby doing more with strategic focus.
So how does this work, exactly? Here are three simple – focused – ideas that don’t rely on new resources.
First, tap your talent. Almost every school has some form of professional learning structure in place. Rather than rely on external resources, resourceful schools learn from within. They use external support primarily to build capacity for internal organizational learning so that the wisdom present in every school becomes a primary resource for success. Your consultants should have a plan to work themselves out of a job.
Secondly, use evidence. Resourceful schools make sure they are constantly testing their theories to see if what is supposed to happen is actually happening. They predict what they will see, how they will recognize successful implementation, and build in regular checkpoints to see if they were correct.
Finally, do what works. Find your strategic focus by determining what’s successful in your school, with your staff, with your students and do more of that. There are successful classrooms in every school and successful schools in every district. Students deserve strategies that are contextually proven and where the internal expertise exists to implement with fidelity.
Doing more with less: it’s what we know works and what you’ll find in any resourceful school. And you’ll find it to be a breath of fresh air that allows your school to flourish.