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Breathing Fresh AIR Into Classroom Initiatives

By Vincent Ventura
 | Aug 16, 2016

ThinkstockPhotos-57569264_x300Happy New Year! So it’s not New Year’s, but in the world of education, September is traditionally our—educators’—new year. It’s when we have the opportunity to try new ideas and draft resolutions. Soon we’ll hear “this year, we will…” or “we have a new initiative…” echoing in staff meetings. As optimistic as a new initiative may sound, some of us may start thinking, Is this really going to work? I don’t have the time, and when am I going to do that?

Deep down, we all know that the purpose of new initiatives is to continue enhancing the learning experience of our students, but they’re still the cause of discomfort and nervousness, as anything new might be.

When I work with schools that are about to undertake a new initiative, I ask the administration team if they have considered AIRadministration, infrastructure, and resources. I use this as a checklist before launching a new program.

Administration

How much buy-in, support, and understanding does the administration provide? John Maxwell, an expert on leadership, once said, “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” If administrators don’t believe in the new program, how can other teachers buy in? Teachers are smart, and they can quickly see who is “in” and who is “out.”

As an administrative team, standing together as a unified voice is key. Moreover, administrators need to have a strong understanding of what exactly is the new initiative. There will be questions and there likely will not be answers for all of them (yet), but knowing where to seek the answers is appreciated. There isn’t a doubt that the road to successfully implementing something new can be long and arduous. Having administrators understand and acknowledge possible struggles ahead of them is crucial.

Questions to reflect upon: Is the administration team entirely on board? What questions need answers to move forward?

Infrastructure

New initiatives can be viewed as “adding more to my plate.” In that case, reflecting on how full the staff’s plates are now is key. Sometimes, we keep adding to the plates. They don’t become any bigger, but the amount of items keeps increasing. Eventually, something falls off.

If the goal of the new initiative is to enhance student learning, the infrastructure of the school must be equipped to embrace the new initiative. Staff should consider the culture of the school as part of infrastructure. Schools with strong professional learning communities are more inclined to navigate the rifts and tides of a new initiative. Schools where teachers work in a culture of growing, sharing, and learning—rather than one that is siloed or resistant to change—can accomplish great things.

Questions to reflect upon: Do teachers have time to accomplish the initiative? Do teachers need grade-level planning time? Do schedules work for this initiative? What are the logistics necessary for this initiative to work?

Resources

A new initiative requires resources. For a teacher, not having the materials needed to implement the change is frustrating. Some schools attempt to solve this issue by asking teachers to share resources. I have nothing against sharing, but let’s be frank: The last thing teachers want to do on a daily basis is to run down the hallway asking for resources. The initiative can fail as a result of that alone.

Besides material resources, administrators should consider people as resources. Are there people (e.g., a literacy coach) present to support the initiative? By providing “human resources,” schools send a message of the importance of the proposal.

By considering AIR, schools can circumvent the pitfalls of a new initiative. If one or more of these elements are missing or are weak, achieving success with the new initiative may be more of an uphill battle. When there’s a fresh idea for the school or classroom, the last thing you want is for your school to be breathless and gasping for AIR!

vincent ventura headshotVincent Ventura is the director of LitLife Latin America. As an educator for more than 15 years, he has worked in junior and middle school grades, been a literacy coach, and has been in an international school setting for more than nine years. He consults with schools throughout Central and Latin America, including Colombia, Costa Rica, Curaçao, Guatemala, Mexico, and Suriname.

 

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