Building a Strong School Climate to Support Student Achievement
Today's post is the practitioner perspective on Monday's post: How Do Principals Influence Student Achievement?
As a principal, I understand the importance of a strong school climate and teacher leadership, and these are where I have always focused much of my energy as a school leader. It has been rewarding to see research done by the UChicago Consortium on School Research show that creating strong learning environments in schools is indeed how principals can most effectively improve their students' learning gains. As discussed in Monday's post, encouraging teacher leadership is a big part of how principals can achieve this.
Here, I outline some of the practices at my school that have helped us support strong student achievement.
Creating Universal Systems of Support
I have high expectations for my teachers, and in turn, my teachers have high expectations for their students. More important, the school provides the systems of support necessary for achieving these high expectations.
Part of that support is emotional support by being present and invested—I am very invested in my school, students, staff, and parents, and they see this and feel this. Being visible to my teachers, students, and parents and creating relationships with them is very important to me. Even small things like greeting students in the morning and talking with them during lunch can have a big impact. Our teachers also understand how important it is to say "good morning", "hello", "Buenos dias", or "how are you?" to each of their students—we may be the only people who speak to that child for the day.
Teachers are also available before or after school to provide academic support, helping students who need assistance with a specific homework assignment or subject area. If the homework was computer based, and students don't have access to a computer at home, students are welcome to utilize the computers at school. All students are invited to academic programs where they receive differentiated support before or after school.
I make sure to acknowledge my teachers and staff for their hard work, dedication, and the work they invest every day, for example providing incentives for them based on their students' assessment scores, their personal attendance, and their students' attendance.
Empowering Teachers to Lead
I get to know my teachers through observations, grade level meetings, and one-on-one meetings. That way, I learn about their teaching styles and see firsthand how they establish relationships with their students and create classroom communities and dynamic lessons. My teachers also know they can come to me for advice and support in challenging situations.
Teachers also work a lot with each other through professional learning, mentorship, and other collaborative activities that allow them to take ownership by developing school-wide solutions to problems and creating improvement strategies.
Professional Learning Communities allow our teachers to help each other improve by sharing what strategies we can use school wide within the classroom to improve our assessment scores. For example, our Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) works with school administrators to analyze and reflect on schoolwide data to help develop what we call Powerful Practices and provides teachers with professional development. Our Behavioral Health Team (BHT) helps teachers with students with behavior issues, while the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) team looks at data and provides interventions for teachers to work on with students who are struggling academically. Finally, our Teacher Leaders work with administrators on assisting teachers in developing their Unit Plans (lesson plans) and provide professional development for teachers.
Grade Level Teams analyze and reflect on grade level data to determine strategies to use to increase rigor and student success. As part of these teams, teachers set a percentage goal that they want to achieve by the middle of the year and then again by the end of the year on NWEA and other assessments. Also within grade level teams, teachers review their resources every year. They tell me what they want to continue to utilize and what new books or products they found and ask if we can review them and order for next year.
Keeping Focused on Our Mission and Goals
A focus on climate is an integral part of our school's mission: "Columbia Explorers Academy seeks to create a challenging learning environment that encourages high expectations for success through developmentally appropriate instruction that allows for individual differences and learning styles. Our school promotes a safe, orderly, caring, and supportive environment. Student self-esteem is fostered by positive relationships with students and staff. We strive to have our parents, teachers, and community members actively involved in our students learning."
Together, we earned Exemplary Status for the social and emotional learning that we provide for our students, and I, in turn, provide that for my staff. Students and staff at Columbia know that they are cared about, that there is someone who they can talk to, connect with, and have a conversation with to help them with whatever hurdle may be in their way.
Everything I do to support my teachers comes back to creating an environment in which our teachers and students can be successful. At Columbia Explorers, we believe in each other, and we know that we can continue to achieve high growth and proficiency if we work together.
Curious about other research topics partnerships have written about for this blog? See this Guide to the NNERPP EdWeek Blog for all previous blog posts organized by research topic area to easily find other posts of particular interest to you!