At the 2019 Impact Florida Summit, Kurt Browning discussed how he and Pasco County educators created a shared vision that puts students at the center of their work and gives teachers and leaders clarity about what great teaching means.
In Pasco County, we’re on a journey to be an “A” rated school district and, more importantly, we’re on a mission to prepare our kids to be college, career, and life ready. Every presentation I give about Pasco County Schools begins with the same few slides, including our Vision for Instructional Excellence. But it wasn’t always this way, where our vision was front and center, repeated regularly for internal and external audiences.
We know more now than we ever have about a teacher’s impact on student learning and we know that leadership is second only to great teaching among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school. In fact, researchers have found that “the total (direct and indirect) effects of leadership on student learning account for about a quarter of total school effects,” an estimate that equates to between two and seven months of learning in a single school year.
Importantly, unlike teachers, whose impact on student learning is mostly direct, a school leader’s impact on student learning is largely indirect. The most effective school leaders spend the bulk of their time setting the overall vision and direction for teaching and learning, hiring and developing talent, and building the overall culture of the school as a learning organization. Leaders have an exponential impact on student achievement because their actions create the conditions for great teaching to happen every day.
One of the Five Conditions That Support Great Teaching identified by Impact Florida that has been a focus of ours in Pasco County is a “shared vision of what great teaching looks like — so that every student can succeed.” Certainly, if you’ve engaged in work around instructional leadership, this idea is not new. And while we’ve come to expect conversations centered around improving teaching and learning to include questions about vision, we often don’t define it clearly enough to be helpful to the teachers we’re supporting to do it consistently. You could ask 100 school leaders what their vision for great teaching is and you will likely get as many different answers. That’s what you would have seen in Pasco County just a few years ago. We realized as we dug deeper into the work with our schools that we didn’t have a common language for talking about how to improve teaching and learning. So I did the smartest thing I knew how to do – I empowered our leadership team to work with our school leaders to create a common vision for what great teaching and learning looks like in Pasco County. And, just as they have done time and time again, they rose to the challenge and created a vision that puts students at the center of our work and gives teachers and leaders clarity about what we mean by great teaching.
Like in Pasco County, Impact Florida encourages school and district leaders to include teachers and other stakeholders in the process of setting the vision for what great teaching and learning looks like. Doing so helps to create buy-in amongst staff and goes a long way to build the common language we need to improve teaching and learning. And while we should expect to see some variation from school to school or district to district, a few elements must be present in some form.
- Gives students access to high-quality, academically rigorous instructional materials;
- Utilizes a variety of high-yield instructional practices that encourage students to do the bulk of the heavy cognitive lifting;
- Includes mechanisms for students and teachers to assess student understanding of the standards; and ultimately
- Results in students demonstrating their understanding of the academic standard(s).
Once a district or school establishes a vision, it’s vital to communicate it — regularly and passionately — so that staff internalize it and own it. This is why it remains a standard part of my speeches. I’m proud that Pasco’s Vision for Instructional Excellence is now showing up in conversations at the school and classroom level.
Kurt Browning is the superintendent of Pasco County Schools.