I wrote the following piece as a response to a discussion in my graduate class and thought I would share my thoughts on education reform.
It seems that every time I engage in a discussion about student achievement and teacher effectiveness, I always come full circle to the conclusion that the quality of leadership in the school can make or break any initiative.
For example, I am the lead real-time coach for Memphis City Schools. We use the “bug-in-ear” coaching model that is in real-time in the classroom with the teacher. Once a teacher receives training on the No-Nonsense Nurture Classroom Management model – which is coming to a school near you on February 7, for anyone who is interested – I go in with a team, and we coach the teachers. Over the last year, I’ve coached in several schools that, in my opinion, represent the continuum of student achievement across the district. Interestingly enough, this management model works with all types of students and all types of teachers.
What I discovered was a strong correlation between how much difference I could make as a coach and how much support was given to that teacher from the administration. For example, at one school, with full support from the principal and facilitator, I was able to coach a teacher from not being able to execute a lesson to teaching a full period with think-pair-share activities, in only four visits. On the other hand, we took a team to one school to coach and constantly were met with barriers. This teacher was unable to offically start class because kids came to class in waves. He kept having to repeat directions and his lesson introduction and couldn’t get the kids settled down. When we advised him to close his door at the start of class and hold kids accountable for being tardy, he was almost “afraid” to do it because the administration had fought him on that point all year. The administrators just wanted kids out of the hallway, and apparently arriving on time to class was not a priority for their school. We advised a few other teachers at that school to make basic teacher moves that would yield structure in the classroom, and we were told the administration wouldn’t allow it. To our credit, we did not leave that school until we had a serious sit-down with the principal to talk about school culture. He said he would have to think about our suggestions, even though the assistant principals agreed with our points.
So, bottom line, you can have the best instructional materials, instructional curriculum, professional development, and teacher talent. If you have a poor leader who will not support his teachers, then nothing will affect meaningful change. I believe that improving the school culture can make the difference in student achievement. Having a school where all staff members, meaning teachers and administrators, have a shared understanding and commitment to student achievement is the only way improvement can make a lasting difference. Improving school culture is key to making any meaningful change because it’s the culture that will endure the marathon – real change is not a sprint.