I imagine that your teachers are reveling in the opportunity to build culture and community with kids this fall, able to teach and not having to worry about teaching test format and prep. Don’t get me wrong, we would do a disservice to our students if we didn’t give them an opportunity to practice computer format testing, learn test vocabulary, and practice test format. Who would send their kid up to bat at baseball practice without at least practicing holding the bat, swinging once or twice, and learning some fundamentals of hitting the ball?
In his book, Simply Better: Doing What Matters Most to Change the Odds for Student Success, Bryan Goodwin shares an analogy from another book Everyday Survival: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things. In the early days of aviation, planes had a propensity to stall and fall into a death spiral taking the pilot down with it, unless the pilot was lucky enough to have a parachute. After studying the “spin stall” and observing what happened to planes when the pilot bailed out, it was found that in most situations, the plane actually righted itself and flew on until the gas ran out and ended up eventually crashing. The takeaway was that the pilot in his frenetic focus of correcting the situation at hand actually made the problem worse. Focused, controlled, calm movements are needed to right the plane. Pilots learned how to survive the “spin stall” by doing less, not more.
Are you in a “spin stall?” The increased focus on student achievement, closing the gap, raising test scores, and high stakes student growth measures have had us frenetically trying to find different ways to “Beat the MEAP!” Vendors are selling products that guarantee that students will do better on tests after spending time with their product. We have School Improvement Plans that are filled with action items that would take an army of people to ensure were implemented fully and with fidelity. Are you frenetically at the controls looking for ways to close the gap and increase student achievement?
Todd Whitaker shares in his book, What Great Principals Do: 18 Things That Matter Most that “effective principals do not let standardized testing consume the entire school, they realize that success on standardized tests allows them greater autonomy to do what they believe is best for students.”
How do we focus on less and not more? I remember a mentor of mine long ago who told me, “Good teaching, is good MEAPing!” Goodwin shares that job #1 for every principal is to ensure that a high-quality teacher is in front of every student in your school. The support and growth of our teachers helps ensure academic success for students.
When I got my degree in Educational Leadership well over 25 years ago, the mantra then was that the culture of the school had more to do with raising student achievement than anything else. Goodwin in his book shares a 2001 MCREL study of comparing high poverty, high-performing “Beat the Odd Schools” and how they differed from low-performing schools. 739 high-performing and 738 low-performing schools with 50 percent or more of their students eligible for free and reduced lunch were compared. A teacher survey about their school’s performance was administered to determine efficacy in four areas: 1. School environment 2. Professional Community 3. Leadership and 4. Instruction Researchers found that low-performing schools were attending to many of the same things that high-performing schools were to affect student achievement, but what the high-performing schools attended to more was what Goodwin calls the “secret sauce” - school culture.
There were four distinct areas that “Beat the Odds,” high performing schools ensured:
- Shared vision, mission and goals
- Orderly climate
- Teachers had influence on school decisions
- “Press for achievement” was prevalent
Culture was attended to by ensuring structure and clear learning goals in the area of instruction. Strong attention was given to providing a clear orderly climate. Every person on staff had high expectations for students and a “press for achievement” was prevalent. Teachers had influence in school decisions and everyone in the school shared a clear mission, vision, and goals.
A daunting task for any school administrator to cull and bring about in a school, but if we are frentically at the controls in a “spin stall” and focusing on the wrong things, guess where you are heading? What if you were to focus on these four areas, putting teachers first and ensuring that your mission is to have a high quality teacher in every classroom? Remember, less, is more! Remember, it starts with the “secret sauce” -school culture.