How to Implement Learning Sprints
A Principal’s Perspective
Have you ever felt stuck in a school improvement plan that was making little progress?
If you have, you are certainly not alone. As a principal I can provide opportunities to come together whether that be in a PLC (Professional Learning Community), during staff meetings or professional development days to “discuss” the school improvement plan. It often feels like the same conversations are happening over, and over and over again with little or no impact on teacher practice or student learning. In the past I have tried many different versions of a change process in a variety of schools and grade levels, but none have had the same success as Learning Sprints.
Here are my top three suggestions for effectively implementing Learning Sprints in your school:
- Create the Vision
It is essential as the principal to understand the Learning Sprints process and create the vision of how it will work in your context. You do not need to micromanage, you need to build a team. Start with a small group...your bright spots. Choose teachers you know will be open and committed to the model. It’s the incubation stage that will create the habit, peak interest and create the desired ripple effect. When you are ready to expand, focus on one particular area or goal of your school’s improvement plan. There is value in working on Sprints as a collective in one subject area. It allows for cross pollination of best practices and valuable data collection on student achievement across grade levels.
- Develop a Routine
In order to be most effective, the collaboration time must be embedded into teachers’ schedules, and it is your job to make that happen. Look at how you can provide release time where teachers do not need to spend one minute creating lesson plans for substitute teachers. You want to be sure that is happening consistently in a timely cycle. Learning Sprints rely heavily on the expertise of the teacher. Identify a facilitator within the group that understands the process and can lead the team. Agile Schools provides excellent tools and videos to help these lead teachers facilitate working groups. Use the resources available to you and your team.
- Lead for the Impact
While team leads are important, it is your job as the principal to set the groundwork to be done within the Learning Sprints. It means being present in those initial meetings to set clear norms and expectations for the team. You need to stress the importance of data and research, that not every Sprint will have the desired result...and that is okay. Your presence will establish accountability. Accountability is often thought of with a negative connotation, but it shouldn’t be. The expectation is that we are all accountable, including you, the principal. It’s not a bad thing. It is what ensures we are doing the work we are supposed to do, at all levels. Be engaged, let them lead, and provide support when needed.
How do I know Learning Sprints are having an impact? Because teachers and students are showing me...sharing their stories of success and failure. Our Sprints focus this past school year was Numeracy. Grade three and four teachers focused on automaticity of basic facts of students working below grade level. Through the use of a continuum, running records, and explicit teaching of strategies, students progressed and achieved year end grade level expectations. Better yet, these students are able to use and articulate the strategies in daily work and conferences.
Learning Sprints have drastically changed the conversations teachers are having with one another, improving professional practice and student learning one Sprint at a time.