Tuesday, March 23, 2010

School Improvement is Simple


Todd Whitaker in his publication, What Great Teachers Do Differently, says school improvement is simple….

Either get better teachers or improve the teachers you have.

What do you think?

Is this too simplistic of an answer?

As the professionals on the front-line, does improvement mainly rest on the teachers’ shoulders?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Having a Voice

I recently had the great misfortune to contract tonsillitis. Out of the myriad of unpleasant symptoms, the one that was the most difficult was loosing my voice. It was frustrating not to be heard. There were a few situations, especially with larger groups of people, when I started to withdraw from the conversation. It was just too much effort.

student unengagement
This experience made me appreciate the value of Reading Apprenticeship, an approach to secondary literacy through the Strategic Literacy Initiative at WestEd. The Reading Apprenticeship framework focuses on students developing, expanding and building the confidence in their voice in discipline specific ways.

In a traditional secondary classroom, it is not unusual for the main modality of learning to be lecture. Students sit, listen and regurgitate on demand. The teachers do most of the work and students are peripheral to the learning process.

In converse, Reading Apprenticeship classrooms have students at their center. Students are viewed as competent learners. Strategies and scaffolds are provided to enhance and expand independent learning. Interaction and supports from peers is critical. Students are held accountable for their learning as teachers become facilitators of learning.

In the Reading Apprenticeship framework, students have a voice and with that voice comes engagement, reflection, ownership, accountability and much more. I am left with the conclusion that having a voice is essential for increases in student achievement, especially for our most at-risk learners. What do you think?

Check out the new Reading Apprenticeship blog – filled with fascinating information on the latest research, resources, and ideas to assist all students with reaching high expectations.
Photo courtesy  of http://www.flickr.com/photos/sergei24/2493843892/sizes/o/

Monday, March 8, 2010

Luau as a Metaphor for School Improvement


The luau, once called the aha aina, was an event that was designed to unite the participants and foster good will, thanks and praise. The purpose of the luau could have been to celebrate accomplishments, honor heroes or gods, or commemorate important events. While some ancient foods represented strength or virility, other foods might symbolize virtues or goals the participants hoped toEaston achieve (from To-Hawaii.com)

A luau, in other words, is all about reflection. What is going well? What are the next steps?

This is exactly what our school improvement teams did last week. They reflected on the level of implementation of their plan and the level of effectiveness. Participants spent the morning going through their plans goal by goal – looking back toward accomplishments and looking forward to next steps.
palm tree
We over-laid these discussions with information on managing and effectively facilitating change. We read Implications for School Leaders Facilitating Change, which is from Hord and Hall’s Implementing Change: Patterns, Principles, and Potholes (2006, p.73). The overwhelming message in facilitating change was to provide a consistent and coherent message and find innovative ways to repeat the message in a variety of ways. Communication provides a strong root system for the foundation of the plan.

The trailer from movie 50 First Dates captures the essence of school improvement planning. Avoid short term memory loss – often associated with school improvement plans – through communication, innovation and persistence. chocolate fountain
In typical luau fashion, we celebrated with food – a buffet followed by a chocolate fountain with fresh fruit, marshmallows, and pretzels. School improvement never tasted so good!

Our goal was for participants to see school improvement as an opportunity – a positive event, to have them critically evaluate their plan with new eyes and to energize their strategic efforts.

Here’s a few comments from participants:
“I will stop assuming that our vision is clear to all involved.”
“Today has inspired us to take another look at our improvement plan – we were able to see what we have accomplished & where we need to go next. Today has helped us decide that we need to take time when we return to our district and look at our plan in a more thorough manner.”
“We will start paying attention to “next steps.” Collecting real evidence to see what, if any, interventions have truly been successful.”
“We will start looking at different types of data, not only student achievement.”
“We will stop letting “naysayers” get in our way.”
“Increase communicating to make change.”
“Thank you very much!!! Your presentations were very engaging, activities eye-opening, hand-outs potentially change-evoking.”