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Pivot, Don't Panic: A Strategic Approach to Academic Improvement

Navigate testing season and the second half successfully with data-driven decisions, revisiting practices, and involving your team for academic improvement and excellence.

It’s that time of the school year when many school leaders and their teams intensify preparations for the upcoming testing season. In most cases, the mid-year test results have come in, and now decisions have to be made to ensure that students learn the content they are expected to learn, and schools remain off the state priority and failing list. Depending on the mid-year results, administrators will begin to make data-driven decisions that they believe will improve student academic outcomes. Unfortunately, in some situations, these changes might be made out of panic. Webster’s dictionary describes panic as an emotion experienced in the presence of a threat or danger.

Don’t get me wrong; I completely understand that losing one's job is a definite threat, and the possibility of failing students is an absolute threat. However, the problem with panicked decisions is that they are not logical, and the outcomes can leave an organization in a worse situation than when they started. In schools, this sometimes looks like eliminating electives to extend academic courses. I understand why this approach has been taken, but as an adult, how often can you focus on a task for 2 to 3 hours without losing interest or focus? Some of your minds may begin to wander just while reading this short blog (don’t worry, I won’t take it personally). Another way that this panic shows up is when the instructional focus shifts from mastery to memorization. As we enter the year's second half, I want to encourage you to pivot instead of panic.

Strategic Educational Pivoting: Enhancing Instructional Practices for Academic Improvement.

Pivoting is 'an adjustment or modification made (as to a product, service, or strategy) to adapt or improve.' Pivoting requires strategic thinking and planning based on all available information. Below are three critical pivoting strategies that you can use to enhance instructional practices and maximize student learning:

  • Revisit Existing Practices: Let's take a closer look at the practice of revisiting existing strategies. It's about more than eliminating practices that aren't yielding the desired outcomes; it's also about carefully considering what adjustments can be made to those that are showing some results but have yet to reach their maximum potential. For instance, if your school employs the PLC model, it's essential to ensure that your teams are not only using the model but are doing so by the established PLC protocols. This means going beyond the surface and delving into the nitty-gritty details of the process. Are the team meetings structured in a way that aligns with the core principles of the PLC model? Is there a deliberate and thoughtful approach to developing the meeting agenda, ensuring that it serves the purpose of collaborative learning and improvement? By emphasizing the importance of adherence to PLC protocols and intentional meeting agenda development, you create a more durable foundation for collaborative efforts that can lead to optimal results in enhancing instructional practices and student learning outcomes. Remember, it's not just about what practices to eliminate but also about fine-tuning and optimizing those with the potential for more significant impact.

  • Review All Available Data: Testing data is excellent, but as we know, it does not tell the whole story behind the numbers. Reviewing data for continuous improvement aims to understand all roadblocks to student success better. This includes anecdotal student data, behavioral data, walkthroughs, classroom evaluation data, etc. Whatever data you have available should be included in the analysis process. However, expecting principals to analyze every piece of data single-handedly is unrealistic. A more pragmatic approach involves collaborative efforts, leveraging the strengths of the entire educational team. Through shared responsibilities and diverse perspectives, the analysis becomes more comprehensive and insightful, fostering a collective understanding of the challenges and opportunities within the school environment. Remember, it's not about overwhelming individuals with data but instead harnessing the collective intelligence of the educational community for more informed decision-making and continuous improvement.

  • Involve Your Entire Team in Decision Making: Engage your entire team in the decision-making process; it's a collaborative effort that extends to every individual within the school building. When I say everyone, I mean exactly that—every team member has a valuable perspective to contribute; you'll be genuinely surprised by the wealth of insight that can be gained from members of your food service and janitorial teams. These often unsung heroes of the school community hold unique observations and experiences that can significantly enrich the decision-making landscape. Their perspectives offer a more holistic view of the school environment, presenting aspects that might otherwise be overlooked. These individuals interact with different facets of the school daily, providing invaluable insights into the day-to-day dynamics that contribute to the overall learning environment. Embracing their input is not just about inclusion; it's a strategic move to ensure that decisions are well-informed and considerate of the diverse elements that collectively shape the school's atmosphere. In fostering an environment where every team member's voice is heard and valued, you enhance the collective understanding of the school's dynamics, making the decision-making process more comprehensive and reflective of the entire educational community. Remember, the strength of your decisions lies in the inclusivity of perspectives from every corner of the school.

Conclusion: Embracing Change with Confidence


As educational leaders, the ability to pivot effectively can be the difference between a thriving school environment and one that struggles to meet its goals. Remember, riding is not just about making changes; it’s about making the right changes. It involves a thoughtful approach to problem-solving that considers all stakeholders' needs, from students to staff. By embracing these strategies, you can transform challenges into opportunities for growth and excellence.


In conclusion, remember the adage, "Change is the only constant in life." Embrace this period of change with a strategy to pivot, not panic. Your school's success depends on it.

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