How Can Master Urban Educators Help Your School/ District?
As a principal in an urban center for 25 years, I know the struggle that educational leaders across this country face every day as they try to harness the greatest educational challenge of the 21st century….preparing every student to be college and career ready. Some may argue that the high stakes testing used as the barometer of success is a narrow lens but accountability demands quantifiable and sustainable results.
In my own experience, I know the climb, the energy and the sheer will it takes to marshal all of the variables to lead your school to that level of success. I know the number of times, though all indicators suggested otherwise, that the student outcomes were not reached. I know the self doubt and frustration despite the Herculean efforts made to embrace pedagogy, best practices, hard work, and laser focus. Like so many others, we too, in desperation, invested in programs that were the latest “shiny thing” promising instant student success. I led an underperforming school…..and experienced firsthand that crisis of confidence in my own ability to lead though nothing in the world meant more to me…
My epiphany came when we became officially “underperforming.” It was then that I stopped chasing what others believed to be the “answers” to how one turns around a school and started looking within for those answers. Remaining true to our fundamental core values and our shared belief in its importance for students, we proceeded to embark on a transformative journey of change. This worst of times demanded bold moves. We defied convention and changed paradigms. By embracing the totality of the culture of learning in our school did the heavens open up.
Step by step, we built a critical mass of support within the faculty. We built a team, in the true sense of the word. The salient difference was that we evolved from being reactionary to reflective and intentional in all that we did as a staff. Everyone became accountable for the outcomes of all of our students. Every action, every lesson, every program, every encounter, every discernible scrap of data, every minute, counted and was treated as a valuable resource. We made dramatic changes to the infrastructure of our school. We had those honest conversations about performance, many of which were difficult ones, precipitating some staff changes and simultaneously in others, a dramatic amount of growth. We examined practices in instruction and targeted weak areas by differentiating support for teachers.
Grounded in the belief that the teaching and learning are only improved in “real” time, our leadership team invested heavily in formative walkthroughs. In our school, clinical supervision and organic professional development were married which made the work authentic rather than an artificial exercise in checking the boxes to satisfy evaluation requirements. We, honestly, looked at practices that we loved that were not effective and made hard decisions to revise how we did business. This is where district support was crucial. The level of professional discourse reflected the shifts in practice which began to bear fruit in the quality of student work and ultimately, in our scores.
Our student outcomes became a testament that we were reaching every child as our subgroups demonstrated a trajectory of growth across every demographic while maintaining the best attendance record in the city and having one suspension in five years in an inner city setting. Our staff and students were engaged in teaching and learning. We stood tall in making decisions that protected the sanctity of that mission. We became a Commissioner’s Commendation School, not because of any one concept or program but because of the widening of the lens to include the totality of the culture of learning. Success is so much more than the employment of a particular set of instructional strategies or canned one size fits all program. Yet, as we travel visiting schools and talking to educators, the myopic attention to narrow priorities upon which hopes are hung for student success is rather glaring for those of us who have lived it. We transformed our school by addressing all of the aspects of the culture of learning.
We learned that you start by building a critical mass, and have honest, reflective conversations to confront the issues that inhibit the process within the school or district. Too often, we are finding educators at all levels of the organization in denial about problems that must be addressed in order to move forward. All of those players must listen and speak truth to power in order to seek solutions. All stakeholders must be developed to reach new heights. Student success will not occur in a vacuum where there is not a vibrant culture of learning.
We call that entity P.I.E. - Purposeful Instructional Equity © and have developed it as a program tailored to fit the needs of your school or district. Whatever your school’s state profile, there is always a need for continuous growth and improvement which can be attained by concentrating on the creation of a comprehensive culture of learning using P.I.E.
When our scores reflected the growth being realized all along the student continuum; when the very highest achieving students as well as the most challenged were making appreciable gains, did we know that a transformation had happened. This is what you would want for your own child. It was a powerful revelation that we had achieved an equitable outcome for every student because after all ... “every kid deserves a piece of the pie.”