As this school year comes to a conclusion many school leadership teams will be working on a school improvement plan for the coming year. These improvement plans should serve as a starting point for identifying a principal’s and instructional coach’s goals that will support the plan.
Student achievement needs to be the starting point for the school’s goals as well as the principal’s and coach’s goals.
The gap that exists between current student achievement and the desired vision of achievement creates the driving goals. This gap could be across the student population, such as written communication skills, or targeted at an underperforming sub-population such as middle school ELL students’ science achievement.
Knowing the desired student learning outcome, the next step is to identify what student experiences and production behaviors are needed to create the learning outcomes and the changes necessary in teacher behaviors and actions to gain the necessary student behaviors. Key question: What do students need their teachers to learn?
Knowing the changes that are necessary in teachers now creates the goals for principals and coaches. Key question: What do teachers need the school leaders to learn? What are the leadership behaviors which will promote and support necessary teacher changes?
The questions below, taken from the Maryland State Department of Education’s School Improvement site in a section dealing with the principal’s role in creating a vision, provide a great starting point.
I often describe that changes in conversation are the starting point to changes in practice. Administrators and coaches should be planning for ways they can engage staff in the conversations that will focus and initiate exploration of the need for change. Considering a middle school’s improvement plan for advancing students’ written communication skills, the leadership team might:
* Ask teachers to bring examples of students’ written assignments to a staff meeting. Seated in grade level cross curricular groups, teachers compare the same student’s work completed on three or four assignments from different classes. What is similar and different?
* Ask the English teachers from each grade level at the beginning of the year to present to the staff the goals that they have for student writing outcomes for the year’s end. Request that they provide examples of those outcomes for advanced, proficient, and struggling writers.
*An instructional coach might offer to run some lunch time reflections around feedback on students’ writing. Teachers bring a sample or two and discuss the feedback they were thinking of providing.
*Social Studies and Science PLC’s might invite an English teacher to join their PLC for 20 minutes as they discuss prepping students for an upcoming written assignment.
* A survey might be taken of all staff regarding the number, length, and complexity of written assignments they gave in the previous month. Results are then provided for PLC discussions.
* The principal might request that staff invite her to observe a lesson where they are prepping students for a writing assignment or a lesson where they are reviewing feedback with students.
Once decisions are made as to principal and coach behaviors, the next step is to identify the indicators or evidence that would inform leadership that their actions are generating the desired changes in teachers that will lead to changes for students.
If the leadership actions around writing are effective, what initial teacher behaviors would be observable? At what point would you expect to see changes in student actions: such as completing more writing assignments or rewriting after receiving teacher feedback? Where would you look for the first indicators of increased student writing achievement?