Three Quotes that Help Define my Work

Posted by Colleen Pacatte on 9/14/2018 7:00:00 AM


Guest Blogger:  Pete Helfers, Director of Instruction & Innovation

“What do you do anyway?”  That is the question I get most often when I tell people I am the new Director of Instruction and Innovation for Gurnee School District 56.  “Great question!” is what I typically respond with.  And then I launch into a monologue of eduspeak and teacher babble of which only my most dedicated educator friends understand a single word.  Okay, so I don’t really answer that way.  What follows is my brief take on what I do with as minimal amount of eduspeak as I can muster.

Pete's Blog

I would like to explain what I do as Director of Innovation and Instruction with three quotes that hold significant meaning to me.  The first is from Edgar Schein, an MIT Sloan School of Management professor, who is credited with saying “The only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture.”  While I may not agree that creating and managing culture is the only thing of real importance that leaders do, it is certainly one of the most important things leaders do.  With that said, I understand fully that a huge part of my job here in District 56 is to play an active role in creating the kind of culture that clearly reflects to our students, teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, parents, and community members that District 56 is an organization that puts the needs of students at the heart of everything we do.  At the end of the day, I would love it if people always said of Gurnee District 56, “that is a school district puts kids first.”


The second quote is from education researcher and author, John Hattie.  The quote is simply, “know thy impact” and it is the central theme of three of my favorite education-related books, Visible Learning, Visible Learning for Teachers, and 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning.  Some view the world of education as one fraught with guesswork and hoping for the best.  Hattie’s charge to educators is for them to know that what they are doing on behalf of students is actually accomplishing what it is supposed to accomplish.  All three of these books inform educators that there need not be any guesswork because there are proven strategies that when used effectively have meaningful impact on student achievement and will result in measurable growth from one year to the next.  After all, innovation at its core is really just problem solving and education today is faced with the very real problem of making sure the students who are coming to us from increasingly diverse backgrounds, unpredictable home environments, and with varying degrees of requisite school experience and knowledge have access to the same education that inspires and opportunities [meant] for all.  To know one’s impact is to innovatively solve the problems described above by using the strategies proven to have impact when measuring student achievement from one year to the next.

Pete's Blog 2

The final quote is from surgeon and author Atul Gawande.  He says in his book, The Checklist ManifestoCoaching done well may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance.”  In his work with hospitals Gawande found that checklists and coaching had an amazing impact when it came to improving the efficacy of surgical procedures and preventing mistakes such as incorrect amputations.  We have begun an instructional coaching program this year in District 56, hiring both an instructional coach and a behavior coach. What do instructional coaches do? According to instructional leader and author Jim Knight, “instructional coaches partner with teachers to analyze current reality, set goals, identify and explain teaching strategies to meet goals, and provide support until the goals are met.”  If coaching has proven to effectively improve surgical practice, then surely we will find it to be effective at improving instructional practice as well.  Our coaches will be doing targeted work with teachers surrounding the use of proven instructional strategies and proven ways of helping students to manage their own behavior.


So, what do I do for Gurnee School District 56?  I intentionally work to create a positive culture in which students’ needs are placed first.  While doing that, I also partner with administrators and teachers to work toward the goal of all teachers innovatively putting into practice instructional strategies that have a proven impact when measuring student achievement and growth.  Lastly, I lead a team of instructional coaches who are working to make sure our teachers have the opportunity to have personalized professional learning experiences aimed at improving instructional and student behavioral practices.