The power of the School PATH

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”I am an opportunistic creature by nature and pride myself on my curiosity in many things.  There are many times where I have explored personal interests to store information for later use.  When I first became an administrator I believed that somehow leaders used their influence to direct staff members in a particular direction with a clear plan and set expectations.  Schools are not factories and school professional staff are not interchangeable widgets and school plans are far from simple.

I have been a believer in the SMART goal system, and have used various techniques to create the goals with various teams in multiple school settings.  One thing that has been missing is a feeling of ownership in the process, and the cohesion of vision.  Even when addressed at staff meetings or working groups the goals seemed superficial and like something that was brought out periodically and checked.  The goals that were formed in these meetings seemed to lack the true feelings and dreams of the group and as a result failed to truly capture their support.

After nine years as an educator I came upon a new strategy for organizing school goals at my school called a PATH.  Before I talk about our school PATH I need to tell you what I believe is important in a school plan.

  1. Everyone must own the goals in the path and be invested in the success of the plan.
  2. Everyone must participate in the creation of the plan.
  3. A timeline must be created to outline expectations and measures of success but those also must be mutually agreed upon and negotiated.
  4. Everyone must have time to “Dream” and wonder what can be possible.  We often limit our successes by failing to explore our dreams fully.

I have participated in many types of planning school-wide and divisional, and the best plans are those that capture the imagination and charisma of the participants.  Furthermore good plans have dreams and then when the dreaming ends and decisions are made firm clear and negotiated terms for success are described.  It is also important for school plans to exclude distractions, members must have leaders who say, “This is what we believe, this is what we are doing, and although that is nice and looks interesting we are focused elsewhere for the time being”.  I call this avoiding the shiny objects along the road.  Good school plans or PATHS have primary (immediate), Secondary (next two years) and Tertiary (two years and beyond) goals for the organization.

Dreaming is a great process because it explores hidden talents and passions in staff and where those intersect with student growth and success is where the magic happens. There is also an opportunity for everyone to contribute fully uninhibited by the bounds of the organizational limitations, financial concerns etc. everything is up for grabs. The Dreams are organized into common themes by a facilitator (ideally not a local staff member) and graphics are added to illustrate what this may look like.

Following the consolidation of the goals meanings and groupings the groups intentions are rechecked and the facilitator moves onto the goal setting phase.

Goal setting requires two components they must be “Positive and Possible” goals.

One of our school goals was that “We are embracing Balanced Literacy as a school community with a common understanding of what that looks like (classrooms Have full libraries, daily reading, and the process is infused in all subjects).

This lofty goal was the first one identified by our staff and came from some identified needs, personal interests and our dream for our students and our school.  The PATH process is longer in duration, meaning that rather than focusing on the immediate future it should guide your activities for the next three or four years.  This long cycle allows for things to feel more manageable or “Possible and Positive”.

This goal was broken down into steps including:

  1. Now- what our current status is as a school.
  2. Stronger- what things can we do to strengthen and encourage growth in this area.
  3. Enroll- Who will lead this goal (this does not have to be an administrator)
  4. 1st Step- What will happen immediately or what is the first step.

This process has lead to great strengthening in our staff and our approach to literacy and so far only six months in we have made some amazing strides towards our goal.  We have:

  1. A balanced literacy approach has been chosen (Regie Routman)
  2. All formed literacy groups which meet weekly to discuss the Regie Routman balanced literacy approach.
  3.  Our staff have all seen a neighboring schools implementation of this approach.
  4. Everyone has received some literature regarding the process.
  5. Our school and community has recently won the Indigo adopt a school challenge and won/raised $16,504 in library books for our school.
  6. Furniture has been purchased and installed to create classroom libraries in every classroom.

I credit all of our recent success in the resiliency of the PATH process, we are no longer tempted by attractive initiatives or shiny objects which come our way. We are working together as a team on mutually agreed upon goals and moving towards them together. To help celebrate our successes we meet regularly to discuss our PATH progress and we have displayed our PATH in every classroom to promote its use and importance.  There is also a special PATH display in our front entrance where photos of our successes and their relation to the path are displayed.  I hope that it is covered fully in images in the years to come.

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