How to systematically improve a school
BY JAY ASHCROFT
ENTREPRENEUR. AUTHOR. SPEAKER. COFOUNDER OF LEARNMAKER
Support staff, new initiatives, exciting technology and catch up sessions. All typical ways that schools leaders look to drive up improvements. However, all require an investment. Either the school has to pay more money or teachers must work longer hours. Neither is ideal in the current education climate. So let’s look at a more sustainable approach, one that doesn’t require you to spend any more money or even work any extra hours. It’s an approach that you can begin implementing as soon as you finish reading this post!
Let’s get started.
1. Develop systems that support teachers first
Let’s imagine you’re not getting the student attainment that you want at your school. School leaders I meet in this situation will focus time and money into those students. It seems a logical answer but it’s not a sustainable one. Poor student outcomes are a symptom. The cause is the system of teaching and learning. Therefore you must invest in a system that supports teachers first and foremost, because they are the deciding factor in whether students achieve or not. This means the system must make paperwork and administration easier for them, enable them to save time by sharing work and collaborating more easily, and having all the resources they would need easily accessible at any time. The perfect system already exists for this and it’s free. It’s Google Apps for Education.
2. Standardise and document processes
Canada, home to one of the best education systems in the world, found that there is a bigger variance in teaching quality between teachers in the same school than there is in a school to school situation. The goal is not think about improving the whole school, but to improve every classroom. By doing that the whole school will naturally improve, because the classrooms are the cogs that drive that change. The key is to standardise and document processes. If you have great teachers in your school work with them to develop planning templates for example. You then know that all teachers are starting their teaching from the same position, the outstanding planning templates that have been developed for them.
3. Drive up quality
Now that you are controlling the planning process, there will be much less variation which means you can begin to drive up quality. With everyone working from the same resources and templates, it should quickly become apparent which teachers need some extra support and help in order to reach the standards you are setting. This is the beginnings of a culture of continuous improvement, where you look at the outcomes, drive up the quality and then set new targets. You can repeat this process for as long as you want, because once you drive quality up after a short period it becomes the standard output of your staff. This can be visualised as climbing a staircase. Bit by bit you drive up performance, climbing a stair one at a time, having a short ‘flat’ period before climbing up another stair.
4. Stick to this plan!
You’ve now developed a system of continuous improvement. The only thing that can stop it is now you! Be prepared for the new opportunities, thinking, and initiatives that will come along. You’ll attend conferences and speak to fellow school leaders hearing about the ‘next big thing’ for education. You must think hard about adopting these because doing so will disrupt the system you’ve worked so hard to build. Before making up your mind I ask you this. How many of the ‘next big things’ can you truthfully say have improved student attainment in your time in education? Ross McGill at Teacher Toolkit has written a great blog on this and it’s well worth a read.
If you would like to learn more about this topic then you can attend one of our upcoming school improvement strategy sessions. You can find tickets for upcoming sessions by clicking here, or alternatively enquire about an in-depth session just for you own school by clicking here