By Evelyn M. Randle-Robbins, M.A., author of The Hands-On Guide to School Improvement
At some point in your leadership career, you may be faced with the task of transforming all or portions of an organization. This can be an enormously challenging charge but necessary for the growth and progression of the organization as well as its staff.
To help guide you through the ups and downs, here are seven essential steps to improve your school organization. By examining these levers for improvement, schools can engage in conversations about whether the following practices are evident or not evident in the school. This, in turn, should spur conversations about challenges and decisions and inform the school what it should prioritize in its improvement agenda.
1. Be a Visionary Leader
The term “visionary leader” does not mean a dreamer who concocts elaborate, unrealistic plans with no possible way for execution. Rather, this is an individual who is committed to developing, supporting, and sustaining ideas for an organization. The role calls for common sense, discipline, and creativity. This type of leader must have the desire, persistence, commitment, and knowledge to articulate goals, share why the goals are important, connect people to the vision, and execute a plan. A focused individual who can inspire staff to reach organizational goals is a visionary leader.
2. Create a Brand
Who are you, and what do you stand for? What are the focus areas of your school? How does your school self-identify?
Answering these kinds of questions will help set you apart from other schools and will help people recognize your school’s specialties. It’s important that your staff be a part of the developmental phase because every staff member should be able to articulate, live, and move within the school’s brand.
3. Give High-Quality Observations and Feedback
If you are not observing and evaluating instruction as part of your daily routine, you will not effectively create professional learning communities. If you spend your day “putting out fires” or clinging to the main office, you will not be able to monitor teachers’ effect on student learning. Good school leaders understand that school improvement hinges on carefully observing classroom instruction and providing feedback designed to build teaching capacity. Strategically plan to support novice, veteran, and reluctant teachers by individually sharing procedures for growth. Promote collegial conversation about concepts and content. Respectfully challenge poor performance based on evidence and provide resources for targeted needs.
4. Assign Rigorous Learning Tasks
This element begins with the belief that all students can learn. If we desire an improved school culture, adults must convey high learning expectations for all students and develop structures that enable practice and perseverance for every student. With this in mind, plan and assign tasks that are cognitively challenging and require students to provide evidence for their reasoning. Make rigor present in all content areas (not just literacy and math), and expect students to showcase the qualities of strategic thinking during student discourse, when questioning, and in real-world connections. Providing rigorous learning tasks will help your students have a deeper understanding of the content and increase student and school achievement.
5. Make Data-Driven Decisions
In order to change organizational and instructional practices for school improvement, you need to analyze any current data. An ongoing examination of data will identify strengths and weaknesses in many areas, such as student learning and structural practices. The goal is to look at more than just numbers and test scores, examining any information that helps you learn more about your school. This may include finding trends over time and the searching for patterns. Write S.M.A.R.T. (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based) goals that specifically define what you will do based on the data.
6. Establish Order
I believe that school should have an affirmative and distinct look, sound, and feel. School should be an environment where students feel physically and emotionally safe from harm. Moving into any improvement situation, an effective leader must establish order. Order promotes creativity. It sets the tone for productivity and is not ominous or restrictive. Creating a positive culture teaches students how to behave and sets high expectations for their performance. All adults must teach, model, and reinforce clear behavior expectations for all areas of the school.
7. Facilitate Parent Partnerships
When high levels of collaboration with parents and families exist, schools can have greater success in overall improvements. Work to establish a nonthreatening, welcoming environment. It should be warm, inviting, and helpful. Provide multiple opportunities for parents to ask questions, raise concerns, and give back to instructional programs. Respond to families’ concerns and requests for information, providing resources and solutions to address their concerns. Host events that show parents how home and school complement each other. Inform parents of grade-level standards, expectations, and grading policies and provide a clear description of what meeting the standards looks like. Allow opportunities for volunteering, involvement in school projects, and parent workshops.
Evelyn M. Randle-Robbins, M.A., holds a master’s of education in school leadership and supervision from Concordia University, as well as a master’s degree in elementary education from Columbia College. After serving as an educator in the Chicago Public Schools for over thirteen years, Evelyn became the assistant principal of the Howe School of Excellence, a K–8 school in Chicago, and later became principal at the Curtis School of Excellence, also in Chicago. With her extensive experience at every level of school operations, Evelyn has both the theoretical knowledge and hands-on know-how to bring about school transformation and improvement. She lives in Chicago with her family.
Evelyn M. Randle-Robbins is the author of The Hands-On Guide to School Improvement.
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