|by Harry & Rosemary Wong
Special to the Gazette
May 1, 2010
The Success of a Culture of Consistency
Elite Scholars Academy opened its doors and welcomed students in 2009. After the first day of school, Graysen Walles, the principal, remarked,
“Our first day operated like we had been together the entire year.
Then six months later, he reported, based upon mid-year, county wide benchmark assessments and the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS), Elite Scholars Academy was one of the highest performing schools in the district. This was an amazing feat for a first year school with several novice teachers.
Graysen attributes the students’ success to a Culture of Consistency.
There are two characteristics to a culture:
When everyone carries out these practices and procedures, there is a Culture of Consistency.
All good schools have a vision or belief—STUDENT SUCCESS. Schools achieve the belief by what they do—the practices used by the teachers.
Ineffective schools do not have a culture. They believe that programs, structural changes, money, philosophies, and ideologies will improve their school. So they keep looking for the silver bullet that will transform their school, when the silver bullet is right under their nose. It’s the teacher, the practices used by the teacher that creates student learning and achievement.
The Importance of Consistency
Every successful group has a culture of consistency. For example, look at any sports team. They all have a common goal: Win the game. Every player has a role to play, a set of practices that contribute to the team.
The team is what matters. Regardless of how good the players are, winning a game is ultimately the result of how well they function as a team. It is the result of how well the players carry out the practices and procedures as a team.
Sports is not the only entity with teams. Successful businesses, the military, even Broadway shows—they all have a Culture of Consistency. So why not our schools?
Simply put, a school must have a set of schoolwide procedures that are consistent from classroom to classroom. This consistency makes life easier for the students and the teachers, as everyone knows what to do, what is happening, and what to expect. No one, especially the students, likes surprises.
When buying a box of cereal or a tube of toothpaste, of the same brand, you expect to get the same thing every time. You expect consistency, not a surprise. You expect the product to be dependable and predictable.
A golfer, asked to describe her game, said, “It is consistently inconsistent.”
A girl, describing her boyfriend, said, “He’s inconsistent. I never know where he is, when he is going to call, or what he is going to do next.”
Students do not like to be in classroom where they do not know what is going to happen next. Students like consistency as it creates a school climate where everyone knows what to expect and what to do. Consistency builds a work environment that is safe and inviting.
Teachers like consistency as there is no more yelling and berating students to do something, because they all know what to do. There’s consistency in the classroom.
When there is culture of consistency, the students will work, produce, learn, and achieve.
Don’t let the name of the school, Elite Scholars Academy, fool you. It’s simply the name given to a new school with all Title I students who all entered via a lottery system.
The fact that this is a charter school has nothing to do with its success or failure. The charter simply let Graysen Walles start a school with minimum bureaucratic red tape and people hovering over him and his teachers telling them what to do and how to teach.
What they accomplished in one year can be done in any kind of a school,
Graysen Walles knew this when he started Elite Scholars Academy outside of Atlanta in July 2009.
A month before, he invited Harry Wong and Chelonnda Seroyer to come and train everyone, teachers and administrators, on how to implement a culture of consistency,—and this was done in one day!
The training was correlated to the three characteristics of effective teachers. Effective teachers know how to
But mostly, time was spent working on some schoolwide procedures all could agree with and stick to.
To create consistency between classrooms, Harry and Chelonnda gave each teacher the responsibility of producing an agenda for each day, bellwork, and procedures. Then Graysen worked with the staff to create schoolwide procedures to reflect the values and goals of the school. These procedures are followed every day in every classroom, every hallway, and even on the playground.
When the students are outside of a classroom they all know what to do. Schoolwide procedures at Elite Scholars Academy include:
“A school culture was developed,” says Graysen, “and this culture provided high expectations for administration, teachers, students, and parents. We will all sink together or we will succeed together. I think we all prefer the latter.”
And of course, the foundation for building a culture of consistency must begin from the very first day of school.
Culture of Consistency in the Classroom
Just as effective schools have a culture of consistency, all effective classrooms have a culture of consistency. The teacher and the students all know what is happening every day.
For instance on the first day of school, Crystal Moore’s seventh grade math class began with a PowerPoint presentation on the school’s beliefs and procedures, followed by the classroom beliefs and procedures. Click here to see Crystal’s first day of school procedures.
Meanwhile, the students in Reshawndra Hutchins’ science class viewed a PowerPoint presentation with her classroom procedures. Click here to see Reshawndra’s first day of school procedures.
And here’s the PowerPoint presentation of Derek Grey’s classroom procedures. Click here.
When you are looking at these PowerPoint presentations, note that they not only explain the procedures, but also the beliefs and goals they support. They encourage students to become a part of the school’s culture, by following procedures and by upholding the values of the school.
Procedures may be different in each classroom, but every class has a procedure for
The Key to Consistency: Working in Teams
The most effective schools have a culture of consistency, where everyone is working collaboratively to help everyone be successful. Everyone is working toward a common goal, striving for constant improvement.
At Elite Scholars Academy, the teachers and administrators work in teams to actively maintain a culture of consistency. Because the staff is small, these teams of four or five teachers can work in a very tight-knit group. This way, the teachers professionally develop each other. They help each other by sharing information and techniques with each other.
“I guess I realized that I don’t have the answers to every question,” says Graysen, “but I know that as a collective unit we do have the answers to most problems. We can solve these problems or issues together.”
Crystal sings the virtues of working in a team. “This year my math team facilitated our students’ learning through teamwork, collaboration, and the sharing of ideas. My colleagues reminded me of various approaches and introduced me to multiple tools of assessment. Our students excelled due to our teamwork.”
Eighth grade, Math teacher Derek Grey says, “I could not have been as successful without the help of my colleagues. Collectively, we function as a team and that helped the success of our students as well.
“Often we go into each other’s classroom during our planning period to help students while the main teacher delivers instruction.
“All our teachers work together by sharing ideas to enhance student success in the educational environment. Our collaborative teams work together to help all grade level math students, motivate students and teachers through positive competition, and grow as educators as we assist and lean on each other for knowledge and support.”
Graysen says, “I knew from day one that our school community would only succeed if we had a common belief system and common practices that promoted strong teacher collaboration, which would then lead to high achievement.”
And succeed they did.
Test Scores in One Year
This culture of support, high expectations, and consistency is shared every day throughout the school. It is what makes this school successful. And all it took was a little planning, a little belief, and a few solid schoolwide procedures and routines.
Graysen is very proud of what he has managed to put together. Not only has he started a successful school, but he has also brought together a strong team and created a close family.
“My principal is not like any principal I have ever seen. He is my coach and he does all he can to make sure I am at my best inside the classroom,” says Derek Grey. “While test scores are important, my principal places emphasis on motivating students to learn. He believes passing scores will come when students buy into the importance of education and want to learn.”
And the staff at the Elite Scholars Academy can be justifiable proud. In January, the students out-performed all other schools in Clayton County on the Writing Assessment—83% of 8th Graders passed, with 5% of them exceeding state requirements.
On a mid-year, county-wide benchmark,
And this was in Math, one of the biggest challenges across the country. This gave the Math teachers the needed data to differentiate and help students master the needed standards for the State Wide Criterion Referenced Competency Test (CRCT); Georgia’s High Stake Assessment for Middle Schools, which will be taken from April 14 – April 22.
If these test scores don’t impress you, then being called a “cool” school might be the ultimate recognition! The CBS station in Atlanta has done two different segments on the Elite Scholars Academy and has called the school one of Atlanta’s “Cool Schools.” To see a video on CBS about the school’s media team, click here. To watch the segment on their hip hop and step clubs, click here.
What better way to sum up a school’s success than to let a teacher share her experience at Elite Scholars Academy. Candy Harbin is a 10 year veteran of the Army, Army Reserves, and Army National Guard and is the 6th Grade Team Leader, 6th, 7th, and 8th Grade Gifted ELA Instructor, English Language Arts Department Chair, and Yearbook Club Sponsor.
The parents are part of the school’s culture of consistency too.
Every School Can Be Effective
Elite Scholars Academy’s success has nothing to do with it being a charter school. It has nothing to do with it being a new school. The staff at Elite Scholars Academy knows what it takes to be effective and they just do it. Any school that does what this staff does will be an effective school.
Schoolwide procedures ensure that everyone is on the same page. And when everyone knows what is expected and how to get it done, there is less muddling and confusion in the classroom, and more time is spent on learning and achievement.Take the first step towards not only becoming an effective teacher, but becoming a successful school. A few simple, schoolwide procedures can make all the difference. From the first day of school to the last, a culture of consistency is the key to a successful school year. More importantly, it is the key to successful and happy students, and effective and happy teachers.
For a printable version of this article click here.
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