Being raised on a farm, a Kansas State fan and a multiple time Kansas State graduate, these three topics all connect with me on a personal level. Even though on the surface these activities seem unrelated, except that Kansas State does all three well. Can you identify the common theme?
Traveling throughout the state this time of the year, you will see dust clouds moving slowly across the fields as farmers prepare the soil and plant crops. They are motivated to get the most out of their resources and hope for a bumper crop come fall. With the bumper crop and favorable markets, they can get ahead of the endless expenses that comes with farming. Also over the past couple of months, schools and football coaches have been looking at their teams and trying to address their areas of need in order to be more competitive. Currently, you read stories related to coaching changes, off season conditioning, players changing schools and the acquiring of resources. Finally, school boards are hiring staff, making program decisions, looking at facility needs, and trying to align budget priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. All of these actions by the school board are targeted at providing the best educational experience for each students.
Were you able to identify the common theme? It’s about continuous improvement. Each of the briefly described activities has the common thread of trying to do it better each year, whatever it may be farming, football, or education. Growing up on a farm I understand the necessity of reflecting on past actions with the previous crop to determine what made it a better crop than the year before. Studying rainfall totals, different soil preparation techniques, different ratios of nutrients, and different seeding populations are all critical things for a successful crop. You reflect and adjust accordingly to maximize the limited resources that you have. In football, studying game film, looking at players’ skill sets in relation to an offensive or defensive scheme, reflecting on coaching philosophies, and observing players’ conduct are all considered in relation to the impact on a team’s success over the past season. Adjustments within all of these areas are made while balancing limited resources with the desire to field competitive football teams.
So how are school boards reflecting on their past actions and the contributions of those actions to their success with each student? The argument can be made that the goals within farming and football are very clear and easy to measure, maximize profits, and fielding competitive football teams. Boards of education, hopefully, have clearly defined the goal: every student will succeed within their system and be successful upon graduating from their schools. The challenge for school boards is how do we reflect on past actions and measure our successes.
Great boards spend time each year reflecting on their past actions and try to determine if those actions contributed to their students’ successes. This often takes the form of a board self-assessing in the following areas: Board Member Actions, Meetings of the Board, Vision and Planning Work, Policy Development, Utilization of Finances, Board and Superintendent Relations. This self-assessment by school boards is similar to the farmer studying what they did last year that led to the bumper crop, or the coach looking back at their player development, game planning, and offensive/defensive philosophies that led to a competitive football team.
The challenge for school boards comes with measuring their success. The measurements of success for school boards are often not realized for several years as it takes 13 years for a student to progress through a school district, and then progress to post-secondary opportunities which may not yield visible results for a couple of years after high school. How should boards measure their successes on an annual basis? It starts with using proven actions that in the past have contributed to success. This is where the process of self-assessment can assist a board with knowing if their actions are consistent with those of other successful school districts. Then the next step is defining short and long term goals with success indicators defined. Success indicators for a short or long term goal are what should be seen as a result of the goal being accomplished. Often boards and leadership teams establish goals yet fail to discuss what constitutes success. Consequently, they go about their work of governing the district and do not know if the district is moving closer to the desired success associated with the established goals.
Whether you’re the farmer or the coach or the school board, continuous improvement involves additional learning and growth to achieve the desired outcomes. For school boards, the closing of a school year and the start of a new school year are ideal times to engage in some reflection and learning to support the prioritization of goals and actions to impact student success. KASB staff is always willing to answer questions and offer support in these processes. And in full disclosure, I borrowed the Farming and Football example off the back of a t-shirt while attending a Kansas State football game in recent years….
Dr. Brian Jordan
Assistant Executive Director, Leadership Services