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The District Alignment Process

Updated: Jan 10, 2022

When Sarah Henry and I set out to write Arrows: A Systems-Based Approach to School Leadership nearly three years ago, we did so with the intent of equipping instructional leaders with a lived framework of how a district can (and did!) align its practices to catapult student and adult learning.

We believe that the best learning occurs in engaging environments where the learner and those closest to the decision-implementation have the most influence over the decision-making. So, we figured that if the story was written down in a book--accessible to teams whenever they might need it--then maybe we could help pass the baton of decisiveness more quickly.

Because an alignment process is often birthed out of a system riddled with unclear expectations, the first step is to give teams permission identify all the arrows that exist within their district. Jamboards and chart paper fill quickly each and every time, and a collective overwhelm is released in the room. From here, it's helpful to use an affinity mapping process to guide the narrowing process. Still, the overwhelm has now been identified, named, and aired. And neurologically, when we are in a state of overwhelm, we struggle to remember, sequence, and create action steps.

In addition to creating Arrows as a resource for school teams, I want to share this simple step-by-step 1-pager that helps to capture the order we have found to be helpful when starting this alignment process.

Each of these steps takes purposeful planning and time to implement with fidelity. For example, an admin leadership team may need a year to gather questions, data, resources, and plan their collective understanding of the PLC (professional learning community) process. Some teams knock out these conversations in 2-day trainings; some spread it over the course of a semester.

Curriculum alignment (or creation) work also can take 1-2 years. We have found that to revise or create usable, quality documents--teams need a facilitator (often the curriculum coordinator or another instructional guide) to help question, prompt, and summarize what is brainstormed. Teams also need guidance on what to include in which documents, how to determine priority standards, when and how the guides can be revised, etc.

Why years? Well, every grade level and content area team is typically unable to meet to do the work on the same day--so the time needs to be spread out. We've found that 2-3 days is usually the amount needed for a team to create a curriculum calendar (again, with some guidance being offered from a facilitator).

Knowing the steps (as we recommend them) does not mean try to build in each of these steps into 1 semester! Please don't build them all in to 1 year, either. While not every step will take an entire year, many can and will. And remember, if you tell your teachers, "This year, we're going to keep the main thing the main thing--we're going to have clarity--we're going to focus!" and then have PD on curriculum mapping one day, assessment creation another, RTI strategies a 3rd, and so on and so doesn't take long for the arrows to add up.

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