Today’s guest post is by Jim Groethe. He is one of the educators that has contributed most to my growth as a teacher and as an administrator. I am really excited to have this post from him and hope to have more in the future.

2018 is long gone.  So are the goals I set for it.  One of my goals, as with most years gone by, was to lose weight.  How did it go?  As with years gone by… gone and bye.  I know I am not alone in my struggles with the annual set up for failure. It has been so many times, so many years of failure that I don’t beat myself up over it.  It is what it is.  A ritual of self.  I pay it proper respect for a time…  until my knees or back starts hurting or a family gathering where I did not want to be rude by not eating (everything) or I just need to sleep in today or this week or forever (I am an educator!).  The work is hard.  It has to be.

One of my assignments as a school administrator is over a budget controlled by a school community council made up of parents, teachers, and administration.  Each year we write a plan for spending this budget for sole purpose of the betterment of student learning.  Spending categories typically include: extra aides or teachers for focused learning or reduced class sizes; professional development for teachers to better instruction; field trips and experiences to improve learning; and finally technology that directly impacts students.  By State design, each year the plan calls for the council to not only allocate those funds, but determine the measurable outcomes – the results.

For years, the measurable outcomes chosen have been ACT scores, State testing, percent of students scoring “Proficient” on certain math standards, etc.  Year after year, and whether the goal is met or not, we discuss the results and the things that impacted those results either positively or negatively.  Each year, we again choose the same results, the same goals.  

To a certain extent, I understand why we do it. These results are generally the measures that our community understands.  They are ‘measurables’ that we can take pride in and gauge ourselves against other schools – and not necessarily because it is a competition, but to give context.

Ultimately, these test scores, while potentially important to an individual student for the purpose of scholarships and/or college entrance, are nothing more than information.  In education, we identify certain assessments as ‘Summative’ or ‘Formative’.  ‘Summative’ meaning ‘a summation’ at the conclusion of a learning period. ‘Formative’ meaning ‘informing’ our decisions as we move forward.  For a school, are these tests then not all ‘Formative’?  I would argue that they are nothing more than that for school leaders. We need to see them and sell them as such.   These tests and data points merely inform our “instruction” or our “processes” for the next year.  We cannot control the specific or actual results.  We can mitigate them.  We can do as much as possible to prepare our students.  We can hold ACT prep courses.  We can improve collaboration, PD, and experiential learning. These are all things we can control. The processes.  

We do disservice to our teachers, our students, our communities, and ourselves when we choose to identify tests as seminal moments or critical data points for our schools – or our students.  

For 2019, I have set personal and professional goals based on the #OneWord of “Samurai”.  As a half-Japanese, former history teacher, I understand the complex and disputable use of the term; however I have chosen it based on the ideas that resonated with me for this year – Samurai means ‘one who serves’.  I love the concepts and commitments embodied in servant leadership (Sipe and Frick, 2009).  I love this idea captured in the movie The Last Samuraiwith Tom Cruise:

The Last Samurai – Self Discipline

“From the moment they wake, they devote themselves to the perfection of whatever they pursue.  I have never seen such discipline.”

I love that.  For me, that discipline will involve process with my diet, my exercise, my discipline – DAILY.  A focus and commitment to the daily processes will, most likely, bring a result that can inform me of my progress via my weight and then help guide my next steps.  

@stewhud always has great ideas happening… I took this idea from him and made it my own to help me be visible and transparent to others about the things that are important to me.  

What do we as school leaders and educators do every single day, as a matter of process, that will have greater impact on school culture, student learning, and results (if you care) that we overlook because our focus is on the end results?  How can we measure, promote, and improve those processes?

As I continue to learn and grow as a school leader, I am committed to focusing on processes and making commitments to measurable parts of those processes.  I passionately believe that a focus on processes is the only thing we can control and is the only thing worth our time and efforts.  The scores will be what they are going to be, and we can use them to inform our processes moving forward – nothing more.  

-Jim Groethe

For anyone that is interested in writing a guest post, please contact me @stewhud. I’d love to have a variety of insights and experiences on Relentless Educator.