Seek First To Understand SEA

By The Indiana Department of Education Office of Early Learning and Intervention / October 29, 2015

The STLC is very excited to invite you to join and follow staff from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) as they share their reflections via a monthly blog on how they are using the SIG pre-implementation year to strategically change the way they think and interact with schools. This is the third blog in the series. Read the first blog in the series here.

Indiana recently awarded 8 new SIG schools. Following the congratulatory phone calls, our SIG team planned onsite visits with each school.  The schedule for each visit was intentionally informal and intended to make introductions with school leadership teams and district staff as well as for us to get to know each school community. The only thing we requested for schools was to be available for up to an hour to walk us around the buildings, talk about what they do and how SIG will have an impact, and ask us any questions they had about the program.

Something pretty amazing happened when we just walked and talked: we got to know our schools in a real and authentic way.  It is easy to forget that turnaround is made of people and relationships as much as it is about policies and practices.  School leadership teams we met showed strong talent and vision for the work to be done (several shared prior turnaround experience with other schools – something we may not have uncovered if we didn’t have time to just chat).  Leadership teams had focus for implementation.  Teachers, guidance counselors, and parent liaisons we talked with were also clear about the intent and purpose of SIG and the expectations from leadership.

Another notable take-away that stood out to our team was evidence of district support for these schools.  Central office staff was present at each visit and seemed to genuinely know about the school and have strong relationships with school leadership teams.  Interestingly, several schools had been recently remodeled or painted.  These schools had freshly colored walls, newly painted lockers (in school colors) and safer entries to the building.  What great evidence of real support and commitment to these schools, not only with people, but with an investment of funds into the physical structure of the schools.


We quickly realized how different these visits were from prior cohorts where our initial visits and conversations were driven more by compliance and technical implementation of the grant. We have already changed our thinking about formal monitoring visits by developing more probing, thoughtful questions about turnaround, not just compliance. We are thinking about upcoming networking meetings and trying to better utilize the experience and expertise of our schools rather than leading activities and discussions. We are wondering how to partner schools with similar needs or implementation strategies so they can support each other.  It has been incredibly beneficial to have time to get set up, make introductions, and move our thinking forward into what it takes to be successful in turnaround. 

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