Today I have two questions for you to ask yourself:
When I was a teacher, I was never sure if the schools I taught were successful. If they were indeed successful, we were certainly not provided any specific formula that led to our success.
It could have been my giant ego that got in the way, but I do not believe the teachers in the schools I taught in had much direction; the leadership was not very in tune with improving student achievement and closing the achievement gap. At least, I can stand to say that they were not very concerned by my classroom because I was never formally observed until the last week of school.
My teaching experience began in a self-contained class that represented a very small percentage of the student population; however, one year, our students did not score proficiency on 50% of the portfolio passages we submitted and I was called into the office. I was told the school did not meet its subgroup goals as a result of my class’s poor performance. Interesting insight based on the severe cognitive delays my students had. However, I accepted the criticism and ensured my team was better prepared to collect the data required for the portfolio. The next year all my students passed with the highest level of proficiency. Only, that year I was not called into the office; nor were my students recognized for their achievements. When I look back I am sure I was slightly improved as an instructional leader, but greatly improved in my ability to demonstrate tangible evidence towards my students’ progress.
It is possible that my general education peer teachers had a different perspective and received more feedback than me; however, I can honestly say that I do not recall one single crucial conversation or impacting professional development exercise in these first seven years of teaching which led to increased student achievement.
We were definitely encouraged to teach students in order to “get them to pass”. I recall multiple times the principal talking about the bonuses we would receive if our school scored high. But that was it.
So that makes me conclude that strong teachers positively impact student achievement more than poor leadership negatively impacts student achievement. I realize this is not mind blowing information to you, but it is something to think about.
In my eighth year as a teacher, I transferred to a public charter school (Charter Day School) that had a very clear vision of its education plan and how as a school we were going to meet the needs of all students. It was clear we still needed talented teachers to carry out the program with success; however, the less-talented teachers did not stand out as much as they did in my previous school environment. During my years as both a teacher and then principal at the Charter Day School, 80% or more of our students passed the End of Grade assessments. I give most of the credit to the talent and diligence of the teachers and instructional coaches.
Our instructional team did not have to spend great amounts of time or energy creating content or lesson plans. In addition, because every classroom teacher was expected to carry out the instructional program, the same way, it was very obvious when someone was not. Remember the song on Sesame Street, “One of these things doesn’t look like the other.”
When the principals and coaches completed the two required walkthroughs each day, they could easily identify which teachers were strong models and needed to be challenged to take their classes to the next level compared to those teachers who needed more training and support.
Because our school had this clarity and consistency in it’s’ education plan, as a principal, I was able to focus my time on:
Ask yourself - How much time and energy is taken from your day due to the lack of a clear education plan?
Take the time today to journal your responses to the two questions I posed earlier:
Once you have answered these questions, begin investing (time, money and development) immediately in your answer to question number two. You need to put any other thoughts and ideas aside while you work to master what is truly responsible for your school’s success.
Dr. Tom Miller
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