Chad Green on Context -Specific Evaluation of School-wide Initiatives

I’m Chad Green, Program Analyst at Loudoun County Public Schools in Ashburn, VA. For over seven years I’ve served as an internal evaluator of instructional initiatives sponsored by central office administrators.

Do you have an interest in understanding school-based professional development from a sociocultural learning perspective?  Read on! Years ago I evaluated two school-wide improvement initiatives using an integrated conceptual framework.  The first component was Learning Forward’s original context standards which today serve as its first three standards for professional learning. The purpose of this framework was to constrain the data to essential long-term staff development outcomes.  The second component (Honig, 2008) operationalized the first one into six overlapping sociocultural learning practices, two for each context standard (see below).

Framework for High-Quality, School-Based Professional Development

I.   Skillful leadership is evidenced when school and central office staff:

  1. Model high quality teaching and learning practices
  2. Boundary span to connect staff with new sources of expertise

II.  Professional learning communities are evidenced when school and central office staff:

  1. Interact at a high level of collaborative inquiry
  2. Engage in joint work on authentic tasks that are meaningful and sustained over time

III. Dedicated resources are evidenced when school and central office staff:

  1. Provide access to ongoing, job-embedded learning opportunities that increase the level of participation in shared work practices (i.e., from novice to expert)
  2. Develop common conceptual and practical tools (e.g., principles, frameworks, routines, language, protocols, templates, materials)

Lesson Learned:  The patterns that emerged from the data were surprising on two levels.  At a superficial level they revealed a continuum of leadership approaches to program implementation ranging from a top-down, hierarchical structure on one end to a more subtle, heterarchical structure on the other. Coincidentally, these leadership structures aligned with the level of diversity (i.e., complexity) of the school’s student populations.  At a deeper level, the findings suggested a connection between each school’s sources of power and knowledge (i.e., truth).  In the top-down structure, tacit knowledge was concentrated in the principal and specialist roles (i.e., authority) whereas in the heterarchical setting knowledge was more explicit in the form of online repositories of co-created tools and resources.

Hot Tip:  Since then, I have learned that I am much more effective when I help central office administrators integrate their prepackaged conceptual frameworks (i.e., programs) into coherent strategic thinking portfolios which facilitate increased experimentation and interconnectedness system-wide.

Rad Resource: Check out Honig’s journal article on district central office as learning organizations.

Final Word: Both schools’ staff development programs were equally effective in the short run with respect to implementation and outcomes.  Which school structure do you think will be more sustainable in the long run?

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.


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