Updated: Mar 17
If it was easy, everyone would do it.
Nearly 28 months ago, my co-author, Sarah Henry, and I started the journey to plan, outline, draft, revise, sign, share, and publish our very first educational leadership book. And though Arrows started its pen-to-paper journey in October of 2018, the soul of the story it captures was born quite some time before that.
In 2006, I was hired to teach middle school English at Brownsburg East Middle School in Brownsburg, Indiana. I spent my first five years in education learning and laughing with seventh and eighth graders--immersed in a team culture that felt often more like family than friendship. Eventually, I had enough conversations with principals and leaders nudging me into a administration program, that I decided to apply to Butler University's EPPSP program for school principals. Before graduating from the program, I applied for an was offered a curriculum administration position in my district--Secondary Department Head for English, and once again, I was over the moon.
In my first eight years in education, I had the teacher-vantage point to witness (and experience) the transformation of a school culture underway. A new superintendent, Dr. Jim Snapp, had transitioned into central office, and with his leadership came the strategic implementation of professional learning communities. At the middle school level, this meant critical conversations about common curriculum, essential standards, common assessments and just exactly how important vocabulary lists were to the success of our students (hint: they weren't!)
In my role as the English SDH, I was trusted to guide our secondary team of ELA teachers through all things curriculum and instruction--as it related to our specialty area. In this quasi-coach/quasi administrator position, I supported teachers in various buildings to align their focus, improve their collaboration skills, and continually refine their learning strategies. I had the true honor of growing and learning beside outstanding leaders at all levels whose mission was to serve students in our community.
In my EPPSP program at Butler, we travelled and learned together as a cohort. Which means, for two solid years, I was able to listen and learn about other districts around the state--to get a feel for what others were doing well and also to reflect on the strengths of my own district.
What I quickly realized was that Brownsburg's continual focus on people, not programs, as well as its ability to say, "NO" to new ideas was what gave its system an incredibly efficient power. By focusing on PLCs, not new initiatives, we created a system of learning based on teacher-efficacy and expertise. By focusing on PLCs, not new initiatives, our teachers were able to refine their content and lesson delivery--to better meet the needs of all students. By focusing on PLCs, not new initiatives, leaders knew what the focus was, what the priorities were, and how to navigate the growth within their groups.
This consistent, continual focus on one main thing is boring for most people, especially teachers. I can't tell you how many times I had conversations with teachers who were asking, "Is it ever going to be time to focus on something other than PLCs?" And I'm most certainly not alone as a leader in making that statement. But here is the thing: a PLC is a community of teachers. What else more directly impacts the success of our students if not our communities of teachers?
We knew were were on to something as a district when hundreds of teams visited our various schools between 2013-2018. So, we started to joke and quip about, "that one day when we write the book." Until, one day in the fall of 2018, it was time to do just that.
Arrows: A Systems-Based Approach to School Leadership was written as a response to the questions, visits, plans and actions taken by hundreds of leaders around Indiana who were trying to figure out the secret to this district's success. The surprising answer is that nearly a dozen years ago, Brownsburg Community School Corporation decided to keep professional learning very, very simple for its staff. We invested in time with our people. And don't be mistaken--people are difficult and messy and complex and full of anxieties and fears and doubt.
But still, we are the answer. People, not programs, are what the education systems is all about. We wrote Arrows to capture the steps a district can (and did) take to simplify its vision and align its arrows. From convoluted implementation plans to clarity, expectation, vision, and results. From confusion to collaboration. From silos to teams. From easy to hard. From common to unique. From good, to great.
I invite you on this journey with us, as we work to transform education back into the hands of teachers and leaders in districts across the country. We realized that choosing a simple, clarified path does not mean the path will be simple. Without first-hand accounts of what teams do to transform learning--the task can be left undone.
There are many ways to align your vision within your unique districts and schools. You just need to take the bold step of deciding to do it. To drop the spinning plates, to stop the "one more new idea" approach and to embrace the power of consistency and clarity for your staff. Eventually, and it won't take as long as you may think, your teachers will see results in the form of student learning. The collaboration will be worth it. The alignment will equal equitable access and balance. And then, when its clear who you are a district and what prioritizing student learning looks like--your teachers will feel empowered, valued, and dignity.
There are many ways to align your vision within your unique districts and schools. You just need to take the bold step of deciding to do it. To drop the spinning plates, to stop the "one more new idea" approach and to embrace the power of consistency and clarity for your staff. Eventually, and it won't take as long as you may think, your teachers will see results in the form of student learning. And the collaboration will be worth it.