Making the Case for Making the Case
Targeted Professional Learning for Trustees and School Leadership Teams
The Brief Case 📚→ 💼 → 📊 →📈
This free edition will help you to identify if becoming a subscriber to Making the Case, or purchasing subscriptions for your team members, will be a good use of your discretionary budget and time. In contrast to the hectic, often ad hoc nature of schools, Making the Case offers predictability and consistency. Each month, it will show up in your inbox in the same format, at the same time, reminding or informing you (and your teams) about essential topics.
In each issue, we will open by explaining the topic under consideration and providing a concise summary of the content — what it is, why you should care about it, and how it likely relates to your school.
Topics to be explored over the coming years include:
Making the case for restructuring your org chart
Making the case for new programs
Making the case for diversity & inclusion
Making the case for new facilities
Making the case for better meetings
Making the case for saying no
Making the case for systems of record
Making the case for transparency
Making the case for professional development
Making the case for growth and evaluation systems
While a subscription will offer you concise, clear thinking on the range of topics that school administrative teams and boards of trustees need to be considering, you can also think of Making the Case as a professional service to promote alignment at the highest leadership levels of your school:
Trustees, who often have busy lives and their own careers, sometimes far from education, will benefit from being more informed about and aligned around issues of learning.
School leaders, who often rush from urgency to urgency (if not crisis to crisis), will benefit from being more informed about and aligned around issues of organizational strategy and management.
After the TL/DR summary, continue reading to access deeper insight on both the Learning and Business Cases for Making the Case.
📚 The Learning Case for Making the Case
Leading learning (which is basically what school leaders are charged to do) has become significantly more challenging and complicated over the past decade. For example, preparing new teachers to walk into classrooms requires a level of leadership dexterity that few leaders possess on their own. Each “new” teacher has to leave a school’s orientation process, usually just a few precious hours in late August, with a baseline understanding of the school’s philosophy or position on diversity and inclusivity, social and emotional learning, learning accommodations, preferred style of teaching, and developmental psychology. There are also laws and school policies to comprehend. Oh, and each teacher needs to have a more than functional ability to use the school’s preferred technology stack . . . and be prepared to update all of the above as the world turns.
After introducing our topic, we will explain how the topic relates to learning — the prime directive of schools. This section is primarily aimed at trustees, who may need to build their understanding about the way a variety of topics connect to, inhibit, or drive learning. In their own work, for example, trustees in non-school fields are likely to be grappling with diversity and inclusivity, and they may have sophisticated insight into the ways their workplace and industry need to evolve. But they may have little to no understanding of how diversity and inclusivity impact school learning environments and outcomes.
And turn it will. . . . In times that only guarantee to change, our recommended way to evolve your own practice and your school’s is slightly contradictory. To guarantee growth, you have to build routines and consistency; to change well, you have to plan to change. Surprising or overwhelming your system is not the answer. You and your teams have to show up for your learning in steady, predictable ways that aren’t so intense that they disrupt operations or require extended recovery. Making the Case is designed to be a steady learning drip rather than an every-once-in-a-while firehose. A tortoise, not a hare. A local 5k road race, not a marathon.
The approach we favor is good for school systems, also. Teachers are often wildly busy. They not only plan lessons and grade incessantly, but also deal with the messiness of human interaction. It’s not uncommon for them to try to sneak off to write an assessment, only to receive an urgent missive from a parent or student that then requires care, attention, and time, pushing their other — also essential — work into evening or weekend hours.
As has been noted during COVID, a teacher’s life is often a “front line” life. Asking today’s faculties to consider a “new initiative” or a seemingly random administrative intervention is often met with laughter if not outright scorn. A new initiative, in fact, can carry an unintended extra weight (“If we’re spending time on this when we have never done this before, it must be important”). This extra weight, in turn, makes it difficult to share information or insights without some assumed subtext of where it’s coming from or why it’s being brought up now.
And yet, our schools must grow; our teachers must grow; our administrators must grow; our students and parents must grow; our missions must meet reality. Improvement in such a push-pull climate should be the calm default — the drip, tortoise, 5k, routine kind.
💼The Business Case for Making the Case
Today’s board chairs and heads of schools, in addition to being the caretakers of their organizations, play an important role in the ongoing learning of the teams they lead. When leaders build a learning routine for their team — something to read / react to and learn from — they foster better conversations and alignment. Learning (as) routine also helps teams to avoid complacency or the “that’s how we’ve always done it” bias. If you’re consistently promoting greater awareness and growth, then your teams will realize that slow and intentional forward movement (a slow-motion falling forward) is the desired state.
This is not to say that your teams or you will agree with everything we have to say, or wish to adopt every suggestion we offer. But giving new perspectives at least a nod, at least a consistent consideration, drives home the point that learning is an ongoing behavior, not a reactive or once a quarter behavior.
This section is primarily aimed at heads of school and their teams, helping them to step back from their day-to-day responsibilities in order to consider broader, organizational concepts or to facilitate the development of leadership capacity across their schools. The high-level purpose of Making the Case, month to month, is to both emphasize and enhance those perspectives and skill sets that are needed to govern / lead effectively.
Most trustee and leadership learning is centered first around initial training / on-boarding followed by an unevenly distributed range of learning during semi-annual retreats. This intensity model may be good for raising people’s awareness about the importance of a topic, but it does not help people maintain their attention and focus over the period of time necessary for them to actually develop a nuanced understanding of, and approach to, that topic.
Take DEI training or fiduciary training as examples. These topics are necessary for new and returning trustees, but they are not generally brought to folks’ attention in any ongoing, routine way. They are likely touched upon during on-boarding. Or they are presented in one-off learning and development experiences at, say, a trustee retreat or in an emergency meeting if something goes wrong.
Yet the tenure of a trustee is usually many, many years. Building organizational continuity and understanding around essential topics promotes a virtuous cycle: trustees feel confident that they understand how to contribute to the school, and heads of school benefit from such confident counsel and engagement.
📊 Measuring the ROI of Making the Case
To call the question most immediately under our nose, let’s say you commit to providing Making the Case to your senior leadership team. We would recommend that you give yourself three months to understand whether the return on investment is what you want it to be.
In each issue, we will also provide a way to check on your return on investment (ROI) (of money, of time, of attention, etc.), should you choose to put an idea / topic / theme into practice.
The return on investment comes, first and foremost, from ‘speed to shared understanding.’ Leading a group to common understanding and alignment around issues helps decisions to happen in better, more timely ways. Also, if you don’t spend your team’s time well, you’re wasting money as well as good will and intellect. As a reader of Making the Case, we would encourage — and ultimately expect — you to stick with your subscription only for the amount of time that it is helping you to separate signal from noise and be more intentional in terms of where you put your (and your team’s) resources.
Quantitative: After three months (e.g., 1 quarter), send out a survey to your group to ask how many editions of Making the Case your team members read and to self report on the degree to which this professional development subscription has helped them to better understand the landscape of their work.
Qualitative: Tied to the same survey, ask folks to enter, as free responses, why they responded the way that they did.
The results will help you to better understand, if not measure, the engagement and efficacy of such work.
If you want to go beyond simply reading the results, you could cross cut them with some other indicators. Reading one newsletter should take about 10 minutes per month, per person. Put that against the time of your team members. For employees of schools, most HR platforms have an hourly rate for every employee, including annual salaried employees, which can be used to calculate this estimate. For Trustees, you can put an hourly rate on their time volunteering and/or offering their professional expertise and how it is valued.
📈 Measuring the ROL of Making the Case
So how might you measure the ROL (Return on Learning) of your subscription to Making the Case? Once it starts arriving regularly, ask people to read certain issues in advance of meetings or open your meetings with a discussion of the latest issue.
In each issue, we will offer you guidance, if not specific tools, to help you measure the Return on Learning (ROL) for the topic under consideration. Though you may not agree with everything we put forward in each issue, you will likely learn something (even if it’s just a new angle on a topic you already understand deeply). Using a disciplined approach to ROL will help you to know if what you are learning is influencing your school’s ability to deliver on its educational mission and / or institutional commitments.
Three months into your subscription, ask three questions:
Does it seem like folks are “doing the reading”?
To what extent do people use the reading to reflect on their own work?
To what extent does the reading seem to open up innovative thinking on your team?
Use a simple scoring system for each question to evaluate efficacy:
0 = not at all
1 = some yes, most no
2 = most yes, some no
3 = clearly everyone
Add up the numbers. If after 3 months (your first measurement), the total when you sum up the response for each questions is 4 or less, try to find out more: Is this something that is not happening or simply not visible to you?
If the total is 5-6, give it another 3 months and measure again.
If the total is 7-9, you are ready to start considering how this shared learning experience is impacting your organizational goals.
More on this topic
Last, and we think essentially, each volume of Making the Case will always end the way good presentations end — by offering additional resources that provide both support for the views stated and additional breadcrumbs to explore for anyone wanting to take a deeper dive or connect with experts.
💡 How High is your Return on Management?
💡 Measuring Return on Learning
🎯 Maximizing Your Return on People
🎯 NAIS Principles of Good Practice: Board of Trustees
🔎 Independent School Leadership: Heads, Boards and Strategic Thinking
🔎 Board effectiveness and school performance: a study of Australian independent schools