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The Most Common Mistake

My list of school improvement efforts (and eventual failures) is long, but distinguished. As a teacher I have served on every possible committee, including a committee established to determine whether we needed a committee. As an administrator I have led school improvement initiatives ranging from complete facilities renovation to implementation of block scheduling.

Like many of you, I have had successes and failures. When I consider all of the attempts, one thing that stood out among all of them was the search for success--we never went on one.

We anticipated success, we had a clearly defined vision of success (complete with benchmarks), and we waited for the successes to happen. But we never searched for success.

In school reform and improvement, success often happens when you are not expecting it and in ways that you have not identified. If you are not constantly looking for successes, you probably will miss them.

We were too busy to talk about what was going well--we needed to spend our time putting out the fires. It felt awkward to talk about things that were working--many of us felt as though we would lose our teacher's lounge privileges if colleagues heard us talking about how well things were going. Finally, I don't think we had the skills to identify success. We had tons of professional development about how to diagnose problems and craft responses to them. Never did any of us receive instruction about how to identify success.

I am in the professional development business (kind of) and I cannot think of a more difficult task than getting participants to attend a Success Locating Seminar.

The logic is pretty clear, we have time and energy to try to fix what is wrong, but talking about how to sustain what is really working is given a low priority.

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