While every school is concerned with school improvement initiatives as a means to improve student learning, research would suggest that the vast majority of these fail. The problem lies in the emphasis on what teachers believe ought to work rather than investigating and using evidence of what does work. It is not simply the programs that schools offer.
Typically, round table conversations follow a similar pattern. That is; a problem is identified, a brainstorm of possible solutions is held, a discernment process to choose one from the list to implement and the task is done! (How many times have you walked into schools to see a reliance on text books to ensure content is covered or see a number of commercially based programs peddled by a publisher as the panacea to the problem (eg spelling; writing; reading, etc)
Now when you look across the globe for exemplars of what outstanding schools do to raise student achievement you see some common threads. For me, I see the following:
- Know what outstanding looks like: If the school leader or the classroom teacher is not able to define what outstanding is, it is unlikely they will be outstanding. Most likely they will keep doing what they are doing and hoping that somehow they will get a better result.
- Teachers working in teams: Collaboration uses the wisdom of all to get a more informed result. Working in teams invites others to help you improve your practice and offers a focus on raising standards.
- Responding to student and school data: One of the difficulties for the classroom teacher is the sustained response to individualised student data. The need to differentiate to meet student s’ learning needs relies on an effective evidence based approach to teaching and learning.
- Focusing on effective teaching: Teachers need to be responsive in their teaching and know their craft.
- More than classroom teaching: Outstanding schools attract and retain self driven/motivated teachers yearning to value add to their classroom teaching. They often (willingly) take on extra curricula activities to help meet the needs of their students. They see a need and not only offer a solution but implement it themselves.
However the most important consideration is that creating outstanding takes time. There is no silver bullet; it is through a positive collegiate culture that the essence of being outstanding is sewn.
I recently read a book called “The Leadership Triangle: From Compliance to Innovation” by Paul Kimmelman. In triangulating the three key concepts; Compliance, Leadership and Innovation he offers a framework for leading school improvement initiatives in a compliant driven world. It’s a useful tool a for leadership teams in schools to open up the dialogue and to make substantial improvements.