Getting Everyone on Board to Address an Instructional Challenge


May 19, 2015


Located on the Spokane Indian Reservation, the Wellpinit middle and high schools serve roughly 150 students in grades 6 through 12. When I started in September as a first-year principal, I was looking for a method to maximize results. I’d taught at Wellpinit for six years and saw that our teachers had so much to do that we really didn’t have a solid system in place to communicate about our students, look at data, and show substantial growth in our students.

Our teachers are super committed to improving student achievement, but we’re a small, isolated school with limited resources for professional development. We wear many hats and don’t get very much common planning time. When we are fortunate enough to receive professional development, our teachers jump in and use what they’ve learned. But, they inevitably get pulled in many different directions, and it becomes impossible to know what instructional approaches are working.

In need of a solid system to overcome obstacles like these, we’ve found that Education Northwest’s Success Now! process has allowed us greatly to improve our odds for success.

Because of Success Now!, over the last year and a half, our approach to planning and shared leadership has improved dramatically. A cross-content group of four teachers and me—constituting roughly a third of our teaching staff—comes together with Success Now! coaches to identify a pressing student learning challenge. We discuss how to break down this challenge into manageable pieces, then choose one research-based strategy (often one suggested by one of our own staff members and/or programs) to share with everyone. Next, we help our teachers implement the strategy with fidelity. Everybody participates, and we set a 12-week student-learning goal focused on that challenge.

In the past, teachers looked at their own data and students and drew their own conclusions about how effective their teaching was. Now, we all focus on something specific. This year, we are addressing the real world skill of being able to analyze how main ideas are developed in complex texts.

To keep track of our progress, we administer short, classroom-based pre- and postassessments. Our Success Now! coaches helped us select a short informational text followed by several comprehension questions, all gleaned from Newsela, a free online resource. All students take the assessments, our teachers score and review the results, then make adjustments when needed.

At the end of each 12-week cycle, we reflect on what has worked and what we can improve for the next cycle. With each cycle, we learn more about how to help our students—much more than we used to from studying our state test results. We now have fine-grained data we can cut many different ways. We look at averages, growth over time, and individual student gains—all relevant to the analyzing texts and identifying how main ideas are developed.

Of course, not everything we do works for every student, which is why I appreciate how Success Now! gets us focused on one complex but concrete challenge, then helps us chip away at it, one strategy at a time. So far, we’ve honed our use of “marking the text,” an annotation strategy from AVID, and we’ve also helped our students learn to chunk and summarize text. Ultimately, I hope we’re teaching our kids to find out what works for them—skills they can use when they need.

So far, it’s been very motivating. Our schoolwide improvements with each change cycle have ranged from 2-25 percentage points, giving our staff reasons to celebrate and believe in the process. With several Success Now! cycles now under our belts, our MAPS data show that our students reading comprehension is increasing at a faster rate. In addition to these gains, we’re a much stronger schoolwide professional learning community. With each cycle, we’ve tweaked our process, making it more comprehensive and efficient. When we first started with Success Now!, we didn’t know how we’d get everyone on the same page and do all the work. Now, we are more familiar and comfortable with it, and we know it’s the right work—the work we need to be doing.