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Alohomora: Unlocking Success for Teachers (and Students)
Unfortunately, there is no magic spell to guarantee a school’s success. Even in J.K. Rowling’s fictional world, Hogwarts experienced a plethora of challenges.
Still, we are all in this industry because we want to help students. In order to do so, we know that teachers and schools matter. In the summer of 2018, RAND corporation and the American Institutes for Research concluded that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation initiative to improve student outcomes was a failure. Taking this finding on its face might mean diminishing the importance of teachers in schools.
The reality is not so simple.
In light of those findings, Susan Moore Johnson, Ed.D. sought out common threads among six schools considered successful. The threads she found are more tangled than you might expect.
“Focus on schools, not individual teachers.”
The Gates Foundation initiative focused on teachers as individuals, essentially considering student outcomes as the product of teacher performance, and then viewing each teacher’s performance in a vacuum.
Johnson asserts that in neglecting the schools in which teachers are educating students, an instrumental part of the puzzle is missing. Teachers are, of course, critical to student success. But the key to ensuring teachers thrive is not simply about “financial bonuses, evaluations, value-added assessments, and accelerated dismissals.”
So what is the key to teacher success?
Not even Hogwarts can cast a spell to make such a guarantee, but schools that come close have one thing in common: they develop systems to support collaboration among teachers and administrators for every aspect of education, including the ones that take place before teachers enter the classroom.
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That means that teachers are heavily involved in processes ranging from hiring to planning curriculum and instruction and even discipline and student progress.
According to Johnson, many districts hire teachers based off a single interview with the principal. In the six successful schools hiring “was an intensive, multistep process that included ambitious recruitment, careful screening, a school visit to meet with administrators and current teachers, and a teaching demonstration with feedback.” Words like “intensive” and “multi-step” may call to mind long hours spent offering updates on the search for a candidate, or time spent communicating back and forth between departments. If that’s the case, you may want to consider ways to streamline your current process to allow for more collaboration. For example, software to support proactive recruiting can eliminate the need to manually filter through stacks of resumes, freeing up more time for strategic hiring initiatives.
Teacher collaboration provides additional opportunities for teacher involvement in curriculum and instruction, evaluation and even student progress. In five of the six successful schools examined, “teachers used common planning time to meet, choose curriculum, create and refine unit and lesson plans, and compare group assessments in order to gauge the effectiveness of their instruction.” Teams also used this planning time to discuss individual students’ progress, providing an opportunity to view students holistically so that all teachers have a fuller picture of the student in question.
When teachers feel a sense of ownership and responsibility, everyone benefits. According to a study from Teachers College Record, “When the principal took an inclusive approach, demonstrating genuine interest in [teachers’] views and contributions, teachers invested in school-wide reforms.”
Another perspective on the Gates initiative evaluation comes from researcher, professor and author, Dr. James Stronge. We featured his thoughts on our podcast, Field Trip, in November 2018.
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Our takeaway: “It takes a village” takes on a deeper meaning in schools
When we think about the phrase “it takes a village,” we often think about a village raising up a child. But, just like any community, it is also the villagers’ responsibility to raise each other up.
“But, just like any community, it is also the villagers’ responsibility to raise each other up.”
Clients often mention that they want to break down siloes: their HR department may not communicate as effectively or as often with the business office as some would like. The pressures placed on department leaders today mean that they are often forced to make tough decisions regarding priorities. That also means that some administrators may not even consider the siloes separating the back office from the classroom.
Perhaps it starts with identifying areas where you could save time—if you’re still working with mostly manual processes, you might be missing out on time that could be used for school-wide initiatives, or you might assume you don’t have time to include teachers in your process.
While there is no magic spell to improve student outcomes, K-12 districts can leverage something better: the magic that happens when people come together and make a plan to benefit something greater than themselves.
Frontline Education provides software solutions for K-12 organizations seeking opportunities to streamline processes, save time and enhance communication among departments. For more information, check this out.