Wednesday, 19 January 2011

School Improvement

School Improvement - Improving Schools by Building a Healthy Faculty Culture
The single greatest determinant of student learning is the faculty. Investment in teachers yields a high rate of return, improves teaching and learning, and helps to improve schools.
Central to determining teacher effectiveness is faculty culture. A healthy faculty culture is essential for students to learn and teachers to teach at the highest levels of their abilities. We know that school culture and the nature of relationships among adults in schools is a significant determinant of students' academic and social progress. While subject-area knowledge and teaching skills are necessary, a school's faculty culture, more than any other factor, determines the level of student learning. The self-contained classroom is parallel play.
Parallel play is endemic. Fortunately, schools that invest in developing and maintaining a healthy faculty culture significantly improve student learning, create a dynamic and engaging learning community and establish a competitive edge in the marketplace.
Although schools must ultimately define healthy faculty culture for themselves, traits such as collegiality, trust, validation, creativity, recognition, innovation and humility contribute to creating and sustaining a healthy faculty culture. A culture characterized by enthusiastic commitment to learning and personal growth, collaboration, and unremitting devotion to each and every student's success is essential for student learning to thrive. Teachers must teach teachers, observe each other, give constructive feedback, and collaborate across disciplines. Learning is at its best in a school culture, created by adults and students, which values leaning above all else. In fact, research clearly demonstrates that student learning correlates directly to adult learning. Assessing, analyzing and improving faculty culture is all about learning together as a faculty and staff.
School improvement and the process of defining and building a healthy faculty culture involve both administrators and teachers. Several assessment tools are available. Dealing with these issues openly, honestly and respectfully is critical to school improvement and to building a healthy faculty culture. The following strategies and instructional practices are designed for every classroom and school. Implement 8 key recommendations and improve the quality of instruction at your school.
#1: Meaningful lesson plans
Issue: Administrators often focus on the type of plan and if a teacher has handled in their lessons. #2: Realistic instructional and pacing guides
Solution: Departments should meet to determine pacing guides for the semester and year, based on the school calendar and key essential standards. #3: High leverage strategies
What strategies are high level strategies? Solution: Have department and grade level teachers collaboratively determine a list of high leverage strategies to use with certain standards and skills. #4: Check for student understanding
When dealing with diverse students with varying learning styles and levels, it is critical for teachers to check for understanding and adjust lesson plans.
Solution: Use daily assessments to review student progress and to monitor mastery of skill content. Create a series of questioning strategies to check for student understanding in a group setting.
#5: Department wide focus on common standard
Issue: Standards overlap and share common elements. Solution: Have department or grade level teachers' select one standard, discuss the instructional strategies that support the standard, and how the strategy is used in the classroom. Share student work at meeting.
#6: School wide focus on one common practice
Issue: The best professional development for teachers is to learn from each other and to have learning take place during the work day. Departments can decide the activities. Develop a forum for teachers to share best practices.
#7: Support for different learning styles and levels
Issue: It is difficult to include student opportunities that accommodate the diversity of all students (the struggling and the advanced student.)
#8: Collaborative classroom walkthroughs
Ask teachers for input . It is best to decide a department or school wide focus for the walkthroughs. Each of the six schools, received $25,000 to carry out a two-year research-guided intervention, to improve literacy or numeracy levels of students. Programs were developed in consultation with all school partners, and involved 50% or more of the students and staff in each school. Activities to improve student outcomes resulted in professional development, new teaching materials and resources, planning and collaboration time, articulated assessment and diagnostic processes, and innovative forms of data analysis and management.
There were 3,800 students and 100 educators involved overall.
The focus on understanding learning, together with the integral role of assessment, was clearly at the centre of efforts to improve student achievement in these schools. Assessment FOR learning became part of the school culture. A key component of action research is the understanding that schools build capacity for improved student achievement when continuous learning becomes part of the school culture. The report stresses that school success relied upon school leaders who provided structural and philosophical support, parents who were informed and involved with the process, and community services that were integrated and coordinated at the school level.
Teachers used daily writing and a variety of direct teaching strategies. A school-wide guided reading program was implemented in the second year involving students from across classrooms who were grouped for level-specific reading instruction.
Parkside was interested in a process of building student and parent understanding for actively using key reading strategies through the use of assessment rubrics for self evaluation. Collaborative time was dedicated to deepening understanding of assessment, establishing assessment tools, and implementing a set of four reading strategies (Predict, Clarify, Question, and Summarize). Smaller, more flexible ability groupings for reading were formed across grade levels involving the learning support staff in order to form the smallest groups possible for the most at-risk students. Intermediate students read with Primary children and tracked their progress. Staff collaboration time focused on student groupings, instructional materials, assessment and evaluation tools, collective problem solving for processes and plans, and efficient and effective data gathering and analysis.
Armstrong Elementary, Armstrong
The action research proposal developed by Armstrong Elementary was oriented to building home-school literacy partnerships in the implementation of a balanced literacy program for all students. Jarvis Elementary, Delta
The staff also developed a process-based model for parent workshops with special invitation to the parents of at-risk students.
New Westminster Secondary School
In Year Two, staff refined the assessment tool to increase authenticity, requiring students to reflect on their reading and thinking at the end of the assessment process. During Year Two, professional learning opportunities and small group work was extended to the ESL Department, the Social Studies Department, teachers of at-risk students and Special Education assistants.
School Improvement in Action: Lessons in Sustainability concludes with five recommendations for schools and districts at large. Lewis calls for more focused attention to the relationship between assessment tools, instructional interventions and student progress over time. She says that schools need to provide systemic structures for tracking the progress of individual students from grade to grade, level to level, and school to school.


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