14 Sep The Road from Compliance to Ownership: Leveraging Atlas to Drive School Improvement
The road trip is the quintessential summer experience shared by educators. The weeks between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next is a blur of travel to destinations both near and far, familiar and exotic. Along the way, stops are made to refuel both vehicle and body. We get out to stretch, to look, to explore. Whether traveling solo, or as part of a group, the route is clear and we are held jointly responsible for achieving the final destination.
To be an effective and relevant learning organization, schools must likewise commit to embarking on a journey of shared and continuous improvement and growth. But unlike the short jaunts of summer, a school’s journey can feel more circuitous than direct, rendered so by competing initiatives, unexpected road blocks and reluctant passengers more interested in “Are we there yet?” than contributing positively to the process. How can learning organizations drive change in a way that moves a school community from compliance to ownership of school improvement?
Crossing the Rubicon
The first step in the change process is to come together as a community of practice by defining who you are and what you believe. At the American International School of Lagos, we designed an ambitious five-year strategic and action plan with direct input from parents, students, teachers, support staff, administrators and Board members. All decisions- committee objectives, assessment practices, professional development, allocation of resources- are grounded within our shared vision, mission, core values, and educational philosophy. And just like Caesar’s bold crossing of the Rubicon River in 49 BC which sparked civil war, the objectives and tasks outlined in our strategic and action plan serve as our internal marching orders.
All Roads Lead to Atlas
Like the ancient Roman road system that radiated central control from the capital to outlying areas, schools need a central hub that all change initiatives feed into, lest the process feel disjointed or in competition for limited time and resources. At AISL, we chose Atlas Rubicon. For us, Atlas serves as the central repository of the work we’re doing to develop an authentic, relevant and engaging curriculum. We do this by designing quality units using an Understanding by Design (UbD) framework grounded in project-based learning, technology integration and the Habits of Mind. Indeed, the majority of the initiatives within the Education goal area of our strategic plan is supported by our core work in Atlas.
Stretch Breaks, Fuel Stops and Switching Drivers
Just like a summer road trip, schools too, need to take the time necessary to ensure that all members of the learning community are supported through the change process. Teachers, like students, need differentiated support. At AISL, we have 51 nationalities represented in our student body and 14 nationalities in our teaching staff; this richness in diversity comes with a wide variety of background knowledge and skill sets. Since rolling out Atlas, we’ve made adjustments to our expectations for mapping so that teachers have the time they need to reflect, realign, revise and deepen their practice, both in the classroom and within their Atlas curriculum maps. Teachers that are already highly functioning are tapped for teacher leader roles through committee work and during professional development workshops. By recognizing our teacher leaders and empowering them to be part of the decision-making process, we are gradually moving from compliance to ownership of our school improvement process.
“Take care of your car in the garage, and the car will take care of you on the road.”
― Amit Kalantri, Wealth of Words
Just like a summer road trip, it’s not so much the final destination that matters as much as the process, especially when it comes to the ultimate value of school improvement initiatives. By being clear about what our school values and believes, by being responsive to the needs of our school community, and by leveraging Atlas as our core repository in which all educational objectives must align, we are moving our school community from being back seat drivers to taking ownership of our school improvement initiatives.
Kim Rayl is the Curriculum Director at the American International School of Lagos, Nigeria. She has lived and worked in schools around the world including Southern Oregon, Egypt, Bolivia, Indonesian and most recently, Nigeria. Kim is passionate about collaboratively designing and supporting teaching, learning and feedback systems that engage and inspire students through authentic problem-based learning and technology integration.