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Fostering the champion that students (and schools) deserve

Fostering the champion that students (and schools) deserve blog post banner

By Levi Patrick | November 19, 2018

This post is the first in a series from the Southwest Networked Improvement Communities research partnership (SWNIC), a collaboration between REL Southwest and the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE). We are teaming up to implement networked improvement communities (NICs) as part of the state’s Champions of Excellence program to test and scale up effective and innovative practices. The program leverages federal funds available through Title IV, Part A of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In July 2018, OSDE announced the first 18 districts to receive Champions of Excellence grants. As a result of the $4 million awarded, an expected 34 innovative programs will be launched in Oklahoma schools in 2018–19.

Author Levi Patrick, OSDE assistant executive director and SWNIC partnership lead, explains how the Champions program uses rubrics to guide participating districts toward excellence in identified focal areas. Programs of Excellence that successfully complete a rubric will receive recognition on the state’s school report card dashboard, to be unveiled in December. Read on to learn more about Oklahoma’s Champions of Excellence program and how this REL Southwest partnership is using NICs to support continuous improvement.

“Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.”

— Rita Pierson, Ed.D., Educator, TED Talks Education 2013

The Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) partnered with the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest to foster the development of champions in schools, districts, regions, and at the state level. Accountability has long been used as a lever in the transformation and improvement of schools. As Michael Fullan (2015) proposes, governments and policymakers must “lead with creating the conditions for internal accountability, because they are more effective in achieving greater overall accountability” (p. 231). OSDE has determined to explore the nature of internal accountability and how is it engendered within a school, district, region, and state.

Hargreaves and Shirley (2009) describe internal accountability as occurring “when individuals and groups willingly take on personal, professional, and collective responsibility for continuous improvement and success for all students.” This concept overlaps with the work of John Hattie (2009), who describes collective teacher efficacy as a collective belief of teachers in their ability to positively affect students that can have positive effects on student achievement.

While there is some research that helps to envision how collective teacher efficacy is built within a school, it is less clear how it is built at scale. Currently, most systems are designed around a negative feedback loop that “gives teachers [and schools] failing grades for not producing better results” and “at the same time, it does not help improve the conditions that would make success possible” (Fullan, 2015). At OSDE we realized that a paradigm shift had to mean something to us and to the schools.

Our mission quickly took shape: become the champion of schools and the hard-working individuals who are collectively educating generations of Oklahoma children. To be that champion, we developed the Champions of Excellence Program, which uses rubrics to provide guidance and the option for schools to celebrate aspects of their school programs. Our initial set of rubrics addressed six focal areas: fine arts, mathematics (coursework including and beyond Algebra 2), science (grades PreK–5), social studies/civics, world languages, and safe and healthy schools. OSDE will receive additional Title IV, Part A funding this fiscal year, allowing expansion of the math and science rubrics to address all grade levels and addition of two new focal areas, computer science and English language arts. The rubrics are

  • Emergent, in that they are codesigned with input from educators across the state and always in draft form
  • Aspirational, in that they speak to an idealized, holistic vision of each program that may be impossible for one school to fully embody
  • Flexible, in that they respect the unique contexts of Oklahoma’s schools whether that be in size, geography, or demography

Each year, the newest version of the rubrics will be released, providing descriptions of academic performance and learning environments allowing schools to self-determine ratings of Bronze, Silver, or Gold. The process requires a small site-level team to evaluate their program, provide evidence, and to sign off that the expectations outlined by each indicator have been met. Other signees verifying the self-evaluation include the school principal, the school board, and superintendent.

The pathway for building collective teacher efficacy at scale is not well-defined, but, with the support of an ever-expanding network, OSDE is harnessing the expertise within and beyond our walls. With the REL Southwest, we have begun to immerse ourselves in improvement science and establishment of NICs across our state to simultaneously refine the rubrics and engage in disciplined inquiry to guide our continuous improvement efforts.

Insisting that all schools become the best that they can possibly be should be standard. All students deserve adults around them working passionately to ensure their learning experience is exactly what it should be. Insistence does not mean that there must be tension; accountability does not mean there must be blame; and support does not mean there must not exist shared vision and shared work. With the help of our partners and our enduring belief that we collectively have the ability to positively affect students, OSDE is sure that we can and will be the champion of our schools and our children.


Hargreaves, A., & Shirley, D. (2009). The fourth way: The inspiring future for educational change. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York, NY: Routledge.

Fullan, M. (2015). The new meaning of educational change (5th ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

For more information about NICs, REL Southwest suggests these resources:

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Author Information

Levi Patrick photo

Levi Patrick

Assistant Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction

Oklahoma State Department of Education