My last post, Achieving School Turnaround, presented an overview of the four IES categories of research recommendations for achieving school turnaround (see IES Practice Guide: Turning Around Chronically Low Performing Schools 2009). The first recommendation sends a message for dra
matic change along with strong principal leadership. Regardless of the context, teachers and other staff do pay attention to the principal’s priorities, actions and words. So principals need to be strategic in thinking about the messages they communicate.
A few ways to signal dramatic change from the status quo in any situation, but particularly in one where student achievement is lagging, follow:
- Use faculty and prep period meetings to focus on improving student learning through changes in teacher practice. This can be achieved by asking teachers to highlight effective practices and resulting student work, or by using this time for study groups to meet and discuss shared readings or implementation of new pedagogy.
- Be present in classrooms not only to observe, but to participate actively in lessons, modeling the importance of teaching and learning.
- Teach demonstration lessons and debrief with faculty. This is a great opportunity to discuss common problems of practice and to push for increased effectiveness and accountability.
- When you are supervising campus, stop and talk with students during class transitions and lunch about what they are learning, successes they are having and help they need. Consider this as not only a strong message about what you value, but as important data you can share with faculty about student learning and motivation.
- Use opportunities to interact with parents for talking about content standards their students are expected to meet, what good work looks like, and how they can support their children’s learning at home. Involve as many teachers as possible in these parent interactions so everyone hears and supports a common message.
- Set up a cross-role task force (students, teachers and parents) to deal with a pressing issue at school: tardies or absences, for example, or failure of students to complete homework on a regular basis. Charge the task force with developing a solution within a fairly short time frame, publicize their work, and then implement that solution giving it needed support to succeed. This signals that you value everyone’s ideas and will empower others to make a difference in the life of the school.
These are just a few strategies but all are consistent with sending a message about improvement in teaching and learning, and about establishing new routines and norms for achieving that improvement.