|by Harry & Rosemary Wong
Special to the Gazette
April 1, 2009
The Tools for Success
The Economic-Stimulus Bill
The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, says, “Spend the money quickly, but spend it wisely.”
The recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) requires every state to take steps to improve teacher effectiveness.
It does not say to change the structure of the school, install a reading program, or recycle the fads we have tried over and over again with no success.
The Act says, “Improve Teacher Effectiveness.”
To improve a classroom, school, or district, we must train the teachers and develop their effectiveness.
John Goodlad, while at UCLA, reported looking at 40 years of educational innovations and did not find a single one that increased student achievement. What he did find:
Effectiveness is not a fleeting concept. What it takes to be effective and how to achieve it is known.
You work just as many hours as the education leader in the neighboring school. Their test scores are higher, their children have fewer behavioral problems, and their classrooms buzz with learning—and you’re left to wonder why this is not happening at your school. What are your colleagues doing that you’re not doing?
The components of success are well documented. And it has nothing to do with programs, money, secrets, or luck. We’re about to introduce you to four successful educators who all subscribe to the same mantra:
If everyone knows what to do, they will do it!
So what is it that they are doing and how do these leaders get their schools to do it?
Procedures Help Get a New School off to a Running Start
Wayne Watts, a principal in Georgia, says, “Three years ago, my system asked me to open our newest middle school. We are now in our third year of operation, and I can attest to how important routines and procedures are when starting a new school!”Wayne’s new school received students from three different schools, all coming in with their own experiences and expectations. Can you imagine what a mess it would have been on the first day, the first week, the first month, or even the entire first year of school, if the school staff had not come together to establish a clear, consistent, and comprehensive school-wide set of procedures?
There are schools that have been around for decades and still have no discernible school culture that sets them apart from other schools. Yet, in three short years, the staff and students at General Ray Davis Middle School have so identified with its school-wide procedures, that they are able to proudly claim ‘The Davis Way’ as their own!
“This has paid off tremendously,” says Wayne, “In two years, we’ve earned the highest student achievement scores in our system. Several of our subjects are in the top 10% of achievement in the state for their grade levels, with our 8th grade Social Studies in the top 4%.”
Of course, as with everything else—be it playing a musical instrument, driving a car, or doing a sport—the more procedures are practiced, the better they are learned, and the faster they become routines. They are like automatic reflexes—procedures and routines are carried out without even thinking about them.Wayne says, “In our recent school start-up, the first day went so smoothly that it was like we had been here for a month already. In what should have been a chaotic moment—dismissal and getting on the right bus home—everyone knew which bus to catch and we got everyone home in 15 minutes—with ‘No Child Left Behind!’
“My staff is talented and capable, but having the structure and a way to get things done has helped us create a great learning and teaching environment. Having procedures in place allows our teachers to focus on teaching, and to let their skills blossom—to the benefit of our kids.”
Savvy Schools Make Good InvestmentsSome educators have observed that by implementing procedures in class or throughout the school, “you seemingly waste a little time at the beginning, to gain time at the end.” Mike Gee, a principal in Tompkinsville, Kentucky, and his staff have found, school year after school year, that rather than “wasting time” on the first days of school, the truth is that when you teach procedures, you are “investing time.”
He shares, “At Joe Harrison Carter Echool, we have a school-wide rendition of ‘Give Me Five.’ At a recent PTA meeting with a student program, I simply raised my index finger and said, ‘J.’ Everyone in the gym of 300 people became absolutely silent within seconds. I felt like the most ‘together’ principal ever! I even noticed parents looking around in amazement that everyone was silent—wondering what had just happened.” (For information on how to implement your own ‘Give Me Five’ procedure, see page 184 in The First Days of School.)
“Our procedures have become the routines by which we function, and the proof is in the test results. Our scores have achieved heights we only dreamed about.
“Our academic index jumped from 83 to 110 and it wasn’t the result of one or two isolated changes. The Wongs have shared ideas used by so many effective teachers and these ideas have provided a culture for our school. It is this culture that has enabled our other efforts to be more successful.“After over 20 years, and in my ninth as a principal, I love what I do,” says Mike.
A Great Way to Start
Dr. Jerry Ralston is superintendent in Glasgow, Kentucky. His expects district-wide success and he gets it.
He says, “In Barren County Schools, we expect procedures to not only be in place—they also need to be understood and affirmed by everyone. In line with this, our staff shares PowerPoint presentations on their First Day of School Procedures.
“As a result, we just had the best first day of school in the eight years that I have been superintendent. I continue to be amazed at how implementing procedures in school has impacted our staff and students. We are having a most productive year.”A School-Wide Culture of Success
Mark Wilson, is a principal in Madison, Georgia, and was recently selected the 2009 National Principal of the Year. An educator for over twenty years (Mark began his career as a Social Studies and English teacher in South Carolina), he became a principal in 2003. Mark is too modest to say so himself, but as fellow educators, we are tremendously proud of his success and feel the need to shout out:
How did he do it?Mark says, “At Morgan County High School, first and foremost, we have ‘One Morgan in All We Do.' All teachers participate in a semiannual planning session where we reach a consensus on a series of procedures for all students. As with any initiative, success depends on universal consistency, so it’s important that everyone is in agreement and onboard.”
Mark implemented a school-wide culture of procedures—does this sound familiar?
Mark continues, “On top of that, our school has a creative schedule that allows the staff to have T3 (Thursday Teacher Time) every week. On Thursdays, our students report to school at 9 a.m. and our teachers come in at 7.30 a.m. During this time, we are in our Professional Learning Communities with our new, newer, veteran, and very veteran teachers split up among groups.
“This is our professional learning time, and since the year began, we have been collaboratively studying The First Days of School. It gives us a great springboard to focus on what we want most at Morgan County High School—high expectations for all, great classroom management with practiced procedures, and student mastery of lessons.” Mark says,
All this benefits the students, and of course, they are happy, productive, and fulfilled teachers.Mark adds, “All teachers receive a copy of The First Days of School and the book serves as a framework for how we define effective teaching. In fact, we are incorporating our work on it into a rubric for our annual teacher evaluation. We focus on these elements:
Under Mark’s leadership, the school has dramatically increased the number of students taking Advanced Placement and other rigorous courses. And since 2003, the school has raised its graduation rate by more than ten points to 82 percent. It has also closed the achievement gap in critical areas such as English language arts.
Mark says, “We have always been a very good school with caring, hardworking teachers. But even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you don’t keep moving!”Mark is one of those visionary leaders who recognize the dynamic nature of education. Learning is constantly evolving, and bringing everyone together to establish the direction for the school year ensures consistency with new and veteran teachers, as well as old and new students to the school.
You Can Be Successful, Too
At the start of this column, we wondered what it was that esteemed leaders do to enable successful schools. As you can see, there is no secret. It is simply a case of “everyone knows what to do, and so they do it!”
There is no hocus pocus, bag of tricks, special programs, or multi-million dollar school endowment fund involved. There is just a school-wide or district-wide culture of success, and a drive to continually become more effective teachers.
Encore, EncoreThe examples you’ve just read sound repetitive, and they are! Only the characters and settings have been changed. And that’s our point. Good schools with sound leadership are easy to establish. They’re in every state and Canadian province. You know one immediately when you enter the school. There is an aura that radiates the culture of success.
On the other hand, you know a school in need of help the moment you set foot on campus. With no money spent (an important consideration in these economic times), and with just the convening of a staff meeting, the road to success can be under way.There are more examples of successful schools in The First Days of School. Please go to page 328 and access the GoBe, “A Most Effective School.” Visit a school with a consistent learning environment and take a look at the poster they use to ensure everyone knows what the procedures are from Day One.
Also, read pages 328 to 330 about Lee Douglass’ school. Each day, the students remind themselves about their mission in coming to school (learning!) with a school-wide morning routine. Their test scores are extraordinary and it is because they have managed to establish a comprehensive and coherent culture of learning.
The Tools for Success Revealed
The cause-and-effect results from establishing procedures in your school are well known. The examples we have just shared document a culture of success.
The Tools for Success are encapsulated in three easy words—Procedures, Procedures, Procedures. Such a simple tool for such a powerful result. Procedures aren’t hard, they cost nothing to implement, and they produce results that are priceless. In successful classrooms, schools, and districts, everyone knows what to do and does it.
You now know what to do. Please just go and do it!
For a printable version of this article click here.
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