Curriculum and Instruction
The whole point of school is student achievement, and teacher quality is the most important factor in the school when it comes to student achievement. Multiple studies keep pointing to the fact that it’s the quality of the teacher that most affects student achievement in the classroom. Class size, classroom resources and technology are important factors when it comes to student learning, but they are not as critical as having a great teacher. Having a great teacher is the biggest difference-maker in the classroom.
To keep great teachers teaching great, it’s critical that they choose their own professional development trainings. When teachers are given the necessary leeway to be in charge of their own professional development, it leads to increased motivation. Increased teacher motivation leads to increased student achievement. Effective teachers engage in continuous professional development (attending conferences annually at a minimum), always searching out the best practices, and always innovating. While it’s certainly reasonable for a school’s administration to also have PD goals for its teachers, the primary PD strategy must come from the teacher himself. That is the best to keep high quality teachers teaching at the highest levels.
Teachers must be seen and treated as professional practitioners. With that comes the high expectation that teachers will naturally seek out and implement the best available teaching strategies for their students. And when teachers select their own PD path, they are able to combine best practices with their own personal strengths and preferences, leading to the best possible pedagogy for their students.
Parent and Community Involvement
Parents and members want to support their school, so it’s imperative that we provide them opportunities to do so. I know this since I myself am a parent with children in school. When there are opportunities to help out at my child’s school, I always make the effort to help out. In fact, I wish there were more opportunities afforded us parents at my kids school (especially ones not during the school day, since those are difficult to attend due to my work schedule). Schools need to consider all the different ways that different parents may be able to support the school, and provide those opportunities wherever and whenever possible.
Using “authentic audiences” is one effective way to enlist the community in supporting their students. Simply put, an authentic audience is a small group of 3-5 adults from the community who come to the school to help teachers judge and evaluate student work. Oftentimes this takes the form of several community adults watching students give oral presentations, and then engaging in a Q&A session with the presenting students to gage the depth of their understanding. This benefits the students in two ways. Students see that their community truly values their education, and are willing to take time out of their days to support it. Further, the expectations for student performance increase as they work hard to impress the outside professionals who are coming into the classroom. This practice also helps give community members more ownership of their local school, which in turn motivates them to want that school to succeed even more.
Discipline and School Climate/Culture
I believe in small schools. In small schools students and teachers can’t help but get to know each other well, and when that happens disciplinary issues decline. In small schools it’s much harder for students to go unnoticed, or for students to fall through the cracks. Positive relationships between students, and between students and teachers are more easily built when they always encounter the same people, as opposed to being lost in a city of 2,500 strangers. Small schools size naturally prevent disciplinary challenges. Students are simply less inclined to act badly towards people they know well. Where in large schools, misbehavior can be easier to engage in when potential victims are just random faces in the crowd. I’ve worked in schools with enrollments between 200-500 students, and I’ve also taught at schools with over 2,000 students. The former is a community, and the latter is a city. And which tend to have more crime? Small communities or big cities?
Another logical (if less intuitive) approach to having a positive school culture with decreased misbehavior is the dedication to best pedagogical practices. Think about it. If the lessons are great, and if class is exciting, and if the projects are fun; students will be so engaged in the learning that misbehavior will become an afterthought. The best classroom management tool is not a classroom management tool; it’s simply a great and engaging lesson. Innovative, creative, best pedagogical classroom practices are the best way to keep students engaged in learning, and away from boredom and misbehavior.
Technology is the new normal. Gone are the days of endless lecture and rote memorization, for technology has allowed us (thankfully) to move beyond that. Technology now allows teachers to engage students in new, interesting and fun ways. Ubiquitous connectivity and 1:1 devices now allow teachers to meet students where they’re at (on their phones), and then use these devices to help students learn. Nearpod, for example, is a website/app that takes a lecture and turns it into a game. For students, a Nearpod presentation is not another boring lecture, but instead a fun opportunity to engage in learning using technology with the rest of the class.
With 24/7 internet connectivity, the sum of the world’s knowledge is now literally at our students’ fingertips (or more accurately, in their pockets). With websites like Britannica School, students can look up reliable information on any topic in the world on their phones in mere seconds. With this new instant information paradigm, the days of rote memorization of facts can now come to a close (facts that, it’s worth noting, are soon forgotten after the exam anyway). With the world’s information now in every student’s pocket, schools can now focus more on skills, which are more useful in truly empowering students to succeed beyond high school.
Technology has also brought with it the dawn of truly personalized education. With reading and math apps that adapt in real time to a student’s current level of performance, the one-size-fits-all factory model of the classroom does not have to be the reality any longer.