Brett Bishop is a senior consultant for Focus on Results after 20 years as a teacher, assistant principal and principal in Western Massachusetts.  For more than twelve years, Focus On Results has been a leader in working with schools and districts across the United States and Canada to make measurable, lasting improvements in student performance, school leadership and decision-making. Currently, Focus on Results supports nearly 300 schools in over 20 districts nationwide serving 150,000 students as they work to improve results.

In the high-speed world of today’s educational leaders, there are many competing interests for time, thought, and energy.  As a principal of an elementary school that was struggling to direct these limited resources so that we could meet the needs of our students, I was introduced by a district partner called Focus on Results to the concept of leading my staff in choosing an “Instructional Focus” as part of a seven area leadership framework.  I did not know how to make that happen but was sure that it would help us to improve student achievement results that no one found acceptable. 

The decision that reading comprehension was at the core of all of our work helped us to begin to bring clarity to decision making around all things. From our choices in literacy instruction to how we supported positive behavior on the recess playground, choosing a focus was our leadership team’s first step in publicly articulating our expectations and prioritizing what we believed to be the most important work for our kids. Going from a school that was trying to be “all things to all people” to one with a clearly defined purpose and map to follow seemed desirable but unlikely.  We learned about how important it is to acknowledge the crowded plate that sits in front of all educators and the value of using our focus as a filter in saying, “No” to requests that were not aligned with our priorities.  Included in the leadership framework was the requirement to establish a set of privileged teaching practices that would be common to every classroom every day.  This step provided me a clear set of what I now hear referred to as “look fors” and brought targeted content to our professional development schedule. Focus on Results helped me to make the components of school transformation fit at my school. It also helped me to realize that my previous efforts to create adult harmony had deprived the students of the privilege of coming to a school in which staff members had wrestled over the most important aspects of the school day.  Through this transformative experience, we learned the wisdom of the school leadership adage: “Everyone gets their say but not everyone gets their way.” The greatest gift for our staff was when a group of us visited other schools that were invested in the same struggle.  These visits gave us both a valuable look at other versions of the same challenges and the opportunity to see some light at the end of the tunnel.  We then saw the early steps toward raising student achievement and got a chance to celebrate short-term successes.  I learned that challenges exist in every school, but that it was up to our leadership team and me to decide which of those struggles, if taken on, would most benefit the students. In the end, we could all agree that they are the most important stakeholders in our work.

The ideas expressed in this blog post reflect the views of the writer and are not necessarily those of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER). For information about CCER’s stance on these issues, see our Report outlining 65+ recommendations for how Connecticut can close its achievement gap while raising academic outcomes for all students.