Over the past year, many GPAEA educators have been involved in piloting implementation plans based on the work of Sean Covey, Chris McChesney and Jim Huling, whose book, The Four Disciplines of Execution, (commonly known as 4DX) espouses a team-based approach to goal setting and execution strategy. You may have been involved in our first foray into this work, or at least heard some of your colleagues talking about their “WIG” plans. WIG stands for wildly important goal and it is a goal that is selected by a team of often job-alike professionals and then used to guide strategic implementation over a given period of time. Next year, we will be promoting this approach to a larger audience of GPAEA staff, so I want to take some time at the end of this first year to further explain why I think this work is so powerful and important.
The main reason I have been supportive of this work is that it allows for an organization to embrace accountability and build positive culture at the same time. Too often accountability is viewed as being in competition with positive work culture and it doesn’t need to be so. WIG plans build accountability because they are data driven and focused on moving a specific data point or specific data set. Team members identify a positive outcome they want to achieve and the specific steps they plan to implement and measure in order to meet that outcome. The outcome is referred to as a lag measure; the action steps or inputs are referred to as lead measures. By monitoring inputs, the team can later look at outcomes in order to see if what they are doing is actually impacting that desired outcome. In this way, each team is actually involved in its own action research project, analyzing implementation and monitoring outcomes. WIG plans build positive culture because they are selected by the members of the team and are not imposed by management, the Department of Education, or any other external force. When teams select a WIG, they are saying as professionals, “This is what we think is important and this is what we want to do to collectively make a positive impact.” The goal needs to be specific and not overwhelming, so not only is the focus area of the goal up to the team, but so is the frequency and intensity of any action steps (or lead indicators) that may be called for in the plan. In this way, the process is designed to increase collaboration around work already being done and not intended to add a new layer of work. Teams engaged in a WIG plan need to be given the time to collaborate around that work, but the process is designed to be quick and efficient. Educators in Iowa have been engaged in Individual Professional Development Plans now for many years, but those PDP’s were too often imposed, done as a formality, or done in isolation. This process allows professionals to engage in common work and learn together about how their craft and professional practice are making a difference.
Another reason I believe in 4DX is that it better helps us understand our antecedents and when educators understand how their behaviors are making a difference it increases our sense of self-efficacy. Too often in today’s world we are hearing from those who would like to have us believe that we aren’t making a difference or that our tasks are futile, when in fact, we know that isn’t true. Unfortunately, we are often so busy responding to immediate demands that we don’t fully understand just how we are making a difference. 4DX allows teams to measure not only outcomes but the specific actions that are making a positive impact on those outcomes. We don’t make widgets; our work is infinitely more important than that. Our problem is we often fail to zero in on goals and strategies specific enough to show our impact. We need to be more like the people who do make widgets and who celebrate when a data point moves in the right direction even if the change isn’t huge. As an example, this year we had a team choose to work with a newer special education teacher who was wanting some assistance. The team decided to have a member visit with the teacher twice a month about diagnostic data and then model in the classroom two other times a month. By spending a few minutes with that teacher four times a month (lead indicator) they saw 70% of that teacher’s students meeting trendline by the end of the year (lag indicator). My point here is that even if 60% had been making trendline prior to the coaching (and I’m guessing that wasn’t the case), the lag measure improved. That team can now point to their efforts and the corresponding outcomes and say, “here is just one way we made a difference”. Now that plan can be repeated where needed, but more importantly it can be celebrated. We need to be proud of all gains large or small and celebrate them for the world changing things they are. One more teacher feels supported. One more kid feels empowered. Becoming proficient is fine and good, but it’s not why we do what we do. One teacher at a time, one kid at a time. Aren’t you glad you aren’t in the widget business?
What makes the above example particularly relevant is that the process worked for everyone. The team decided what impact they were striving for. It wasn’t huge in scope. It didn’t create a new set of initiatives or work patterns (beyond tracking the inputs and spending a small amount of time monitoring the plan). It was manageable, requiring a monthly check-in after a regional Friday meeting. The team decided what supports or inputs they thought could impact the outcome. The teacher gained confidence. Some kids gained self-esteem. And so what if the lag measure or outcome hadn’t been as positive as hoped? Then the team would still have learned something and would have been better equipped to take on its next challenge, which brings up another important point. This process is not evaluative. That cannot be overstated. 4DX is a process that needs to be owned by the team. It needs to be a mechanism to increase professional learning and to drive continuos improvement, but it needs to be owned by the members of the team. The only role management should have in the process is to help people learn the terminology and skills and to make sure that people have the time to engage in the work.
I continue to be excited about this approach to professional growth and learning. I hope each of you has the chance to engage in it in the future. I believe you will find it rewarding. It will honor your professionalism, strengthen your workplace relationships, and most importantly, drive positive outcomes for teachers and kids in a way you will celebrate. As always, thanks for all you do and have a great Summer.