Improvement Initiatives and Recovery Plans
Leadership Insights

Principal as Instructional Coach: The Importance of a Recovery Plan

By Terry Wilhelm March 29, 2016

I know a few people who have never been on a diet. Not many, but a few. If you are one of them, you may be unfamiliar with the concept of a recovery plan. Basically, it means that you have a concrete, well-thought-out strategy for coping with the aftermath of moments of weakness when you eat too much or eat the wrong things.

Moving away from diets now, consider your current improvement initiative. In the first place, not every member of your teaching staff may have full ownership of the initiative. It may have been mandated by the district office or the state. Or it may have actually originated within your own school, designed by you, or a small group such as your Site Council. This is trouble already. Some principals talk about buy-in, a weak and relatively useless concept. Without full ownership of the teachers who implement it, an improvement initiative will never be fully executed and sustained.

Mandated initiatives may nevertheless get off to a strong start. Everyone attends the required professional learning, usually delivered by an outsider. Then a great deal of energy may be applied through frequent, targeted principal walk-throughs. This may last for a while. Inevitably, other issues begin to drain off attention and energy, and soon it’s difficult to find evidence that the initiative is still alive.

A more promising start: Site-level initiatives with teacher input and shared leadership

Instead, using shared leadership with teacher leaders to develop the initiative at the site level, based on the examination of student data provides a more promising start. Even if the initiative is mandated from the state or district, “massaging” it to make sense for your school is a task that demands time and effort, shoulder-to-shoulder with your teacher leaders — if it is to succeed. In a shared leadership school, teacher leaders each lead a team of colleagues. Two-way communication, with many opportunities for input, is essential during the development phase.

Why recovery plans are a crucial step to include in any improvement initiative

Even in schools where shared leadership is the norm, coming up with a recovery plan is a typically-neglected step. This should be developed alongside the plans for professional learning, coaching, and troubleshooting that will take place during team collaborations and staff meetings. Expect setbacks. Expect that some teachers will have more difficulty than others learning and mastering the new curriculum or instructional strategies. Think “when,” not “if.”

What resources are available when there are bumps in the road, and how will you and the teacher leaders monitor how it’s going? It is essential to think through, in concrete terms, how data will be collected, both on the impact on student learning, and the impact upon implementers, from the time the initiative begins. Waiting until benchmark testing or state testing will be too late. How will the teacher teams, led by your teacher leaders, help monitor success?

Teachers develop and own improvement initiatives through shared leadership, a willingness to try, and in an environment where continuous improvement is the norm.

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