My administrative team and I began a week chocked full of strategic planning with every grade level, as we move into Unit 2 of our curricula. We began the planning session with an engaging, anchor activity that centered on a childhood favorite toy—the Rubik’s Cube. Each group was charged to complete two tasks; the first task required the team to choose, and match one color on one side of the cube. This won’t be that hard! I was the Ruby [sic] Cube, Champ back in the day! My administrative team and I chuckled when we heard these quips, as we gave the team the next layer of instructions. We told them that the team could only turn the cube 30 times and they only had 8 minutes to complete the task. These were powerful moments to observe. We watched our faculty strategize with every twist and turn of the cube.
The teams were methodical in their approaches—none were the same. Additionally, the teams were engaged in rich dialogue, as they constantly asked one another, Well what do you think? And Why are we twisting the cube this way? How many times have we turned it? How many minutes do we have left?
Though we did not initially engage with the teachers, I could see my administrative team show signs of empathy for our teachers. I had them to complete the tasks last week, and I saw the same reactions, firsthand—now it was there turn to stand in my shoes, and observe.
At the end of the first task, I asked the team, How could you relate this task to your collaborative planning? How can you relate this activity to student achievement? The teachers’ responses were no less than phenomenal: Dr. Jackson–every single turn was very important; the turns represented the lessons we teach. Another replied, You have to study that Cube before you make your first move—the same is true with your lesson plan; you have to study it first. I was so proud, as another teacher chimed in: It made me realize that collegial conversations are vital. You made need clarification of a misconception, before you make a move. Effective communication can save you time! Someone else yelled—And a headache! Another—Yeah! You have to listen to your colleagues, and trust that they know what they are talking about. Finally, someone else shared, Also—you just have to begin and make adjustments along the way. They were all on target with what I wanted them to see: the importance of effective communication, and the importance of active listening. These, along with building and maintaining professional trust, are paramount to the success of school-wide academic initiatives.
Now that I had their attention, I shared with the next task with them. Their teams had to continue the reflective process and respond as to how it felt to have only 30 turns. All hands shot into the air. I thought to myself—I got’em. I was elated as they responded: We had to be intentional with every move. I reminded them that the turns, or moves they made represented their daily lessons. They continued: We felt limited in our moves. Ah yes—this, I told them represented their autonomy, or in this case—the limitations of their desire to be completely autonomous. Finally, someone summarized what I was going to say, I realize, now, Dr. Jackson, that we have to engage in strategic planning, to deliver rigorous instruction, and we have to constantly think about our next move. If we collaborate—we can work smarter, rather than harder. Once we started listening to each other, the task got easier to complete.
The next task was the same, except the teams had to complete an assigned color. However, this time, they only had three minutes to complete the task. I watched as the teachers tried to complete the task within the set parameters, but the planning and moves were not as smooth as they were initially, and the communication was much more intense. At the end of the three minutes, I asked the teachers again How did you feel about the task this time? The consensus was they felt: rushed; unorganized with every move, because they lacked direction. This, I told them represented an unprepared, or an ill-prepared lesson. They also said they knew they were not strategic, as they did not have enough time to plan for their moves—their instruction. Because they could not devise a cohesive plan for each move, they felt frustrated. They made a very poignant point—it was easy to blame their colleague that they had just trusted in the first activity. We discussed how time was a key factor in planning for instruction. We related time to the standards—this is where we need to spend our time, and then move into our lesson, so that our students will have a clear, academic focus.
After completing these two tasks my teachers had a lucid understanding of the importance of being strategic planning for instruction. They understood that it is a process that can change, depending on the requirements. Therefore, an effective teacher is consistently asking questions that will garner positive results. He/she is strategically planning every lesson, and making a robust effort to show the students that every lesson counts. The effective educator will be able to accomplish the task more effectively, and efficiently, because he/she understands that in planning and preparation, one move affects all the other moves.
In conclusion, this was a dynamic exercise, as it illustrated to administrators that effective planning is paramount to ensure that each child has the opportunity to be successful. However, this can only occur, if the student has a teacher who has taken the time to plan effectively for instruction. This was goal of putting the colors together on the Rubik’s Cube. If teachers will use all their resources, and maximize their time, they can produce a well-written, rigorous level, that will afford students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning at a high level. Furthermore, the teachers will not lose their autonomy, if they collaborate. The same rich conversations that were had in trying to complete the task should be heard during their common planning time. However, more often than not—teachers squandered the time. I think I may just leave one Rubik’s Cube in our collaborative planning room to remind the teachers that we are striving to meet the mandates of an act that is grounded in ensuring that all students have the opportunity to experience success—and they will, if our teachers continue to be strategic.
A Rubik’s Cube can be completed in three minutes—effective collaboration cannot be completed in three minutes. My teachers now see the value in purposeful planning to maximize student achievement, and to establish and maintain positive, professional relationships. However, as the institutional leader it is my responsibility to provide that time.