Sustainability: Out-Live Out-Last Out-Reach
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Poster Presentation Full Text:
One does not discover new lands without consenting to leave sight of the shore for a very long time. -Andre Gide

Poster presentations are composed in four parts:
  • Original goals for project sustainability under ideal conditions
  • Reflections on these goals from the end of the project funding cycle
  • Suggestions for projects starting out; or, how we might have done things differently
  • Questions for other project's staff to reply to


Original goals for project sustainability under ideal conditions

In the best of all possible worlds what sustainability would look like ...?

The original goals for the MSI called for systemic change through:

  1. Support for new teachers

  2. Development of cross-district leadership

  3. Moving beyond mechanical use of science and mathematics curriculum, and

  4. Addressing diversity and equity in special populations.

In order to be sustainable, these changes required reform in district structure, professional development, teacher support systems, and beliefs. You can examine a more detailed overview of our design at the MSI website

Our project began planning for sustainability from the very first year. Every year we counted backwards from the end of our project to the point in time from which we were taking measurement. We kept clear benchmarks and measured our progress against them two or three times a year. Built into our assumptions were:

  1. The funding really would be gone.

  2. Sustainable elements would have to be within the district's budget.

  3. Our project could develop site-based learning communities.

  4. A core leadership could be built to continue carrying the vision.

If they are not learning from the way we teach, then perhaps we should teach the way that they learn. - Association for Experiential Education


Reflections on these goals from the end of the project funding cycle

What of that vision is realistic and what is really impossible and why?

Looking back six years, none of the goals were unrealistic nor has sustainability been unobtainable. If anything, we were surprised at how quickly progress was made in most of the areas we targeted.

The most difficult goal was building understanding and equity for students from diverse populations. This would seem at first to be the easiest of the five goals, because teachers are of good heart and care about all their students. It was this very assumption, however, which led teachers to believe that they did not need to change. In the first four years, we could not engage teachers on this topic. What finally provided the mechanism was a class designed by Dr. Ruby Payne titled, A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Teachers were in desperate need of new strategies in order to address the rapid change in student population. Only after examining their assumptions about students of poverty, did staff realize that those assumptions also limited perspective in other areas of diversity. (In the last five months, we have had 500 teachers participate in the Poverty workshop.)


Suggestions for projects starting out; or, how we might have done things differently

  1. Build your leadership first.

  2. Invest heavily in principals.

  3. Believe in the Concerns Based Adoption Model - it's true.

  4. Use technology as a bridge across the curriculum.

  5. Don't try to mix math and science.

  6. Examine your assumptions.

Leadership: Invest highly in these folks first. Most projects start out with only a handful of staff on full or part time contract. You cannot possibly get the job done without significantly expanding this base. Your teacher-leaders are also essential for continuing what is developed. Begin by building their understanding of the change process, how to work with adult learners, and understanding elements of effective professional development. At the end of our project, we have over 500 teacher-leaders serving as mentors, liaisons, and synergy teams at both the school and district level. They will remain after our project is gone.

Principals: At the school level, principals can drive your project or make success virtually impossible. Invest directly in their professional development with special workshops, institutes, retreats, materials or other strategies designed just for principals. Listen to them: their goals, commitments and concerns. Give them ownership in the design and direction of the professional development plan. Three things will happen: 1.) They will come to believe that you are committed to working with them. Principals spend so much time dealing with crises that they rarely receive quality PD. 2.) You will learn what their needs are and how best to serve them, and 3.) They will learn standards based math, science and technology and how to build it into their schools.

Concerns Based Adoption Model (CBAM): Believe it. Accept it. Plan around it. Recognize that your teachers and administrators will come to you at every level of concern. Don't dismay with those at the early or beginning stages. They are a natural part of any change process. Have strategies for working with different parts of your population at every level.

Technology is a bridge: New technologies can be your most successful bridge across the curriculum. Teachers and students need to master technology skills. Have that happen in the context of curriculum, e.g. at the same time students learn to use the Internet they learn current and relevant science topics. Or they might use probes and other tools which feed data directly into the computer for graphing and evaluating mathematically.

Nixing mixing science and math: This may sound like heresy, but it is exceedingly difficult to combine science and mathematics under one grant. At the elementary level, teachers are under too much mathematics testing pressure to give equal attention to science. At the secondary level, building collaboration between departments is difficult if teachers do not envision a direct benefit to them.

Examine your assumptions: Remember, "What you don't know, you don't know, you don't know." You'll be amazed at how dumb you are. You will do foolish things, but do them with enthusiasm. - Collette


Questions for other project's staff to reply to

  1. What impact has state or local high stakes testing had on your project?

  2. Did you obtain additional outside funding to sustain what you have put in place? How?

  3. Are you hiring...?

Bob Box of the Mesa Systemic Initiative project.


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