Solutions for Schools in Required Improvement

I have been asked by several principals to share advice on solutions to move your school out of "Required Improvement (RI)" status or how not to let it fall into RI status.  There is not one magical solution to it.  It is a mixture of many.  I am sharing 14 must haves with you.  One tip that I use is BEGIN WITH THE END IN MIND.  If you can see the success at the end, then you are on the right step.  It all starts at the end and then map back to the beginning.  Every item listed below is a must in my mind.  Not one item is more important than the other.  However, some take a lot more time to accomplish.

1.  Strong Leadership 2. Consistent and Constant Focus on Instruction and 3.  Committed Staff, Administration and Parents where discussed about a week ago.  You can read about them on my blog here.

4.  Data Driven- If you have been following me over the years, you know this was going to be on my list.  I'm dubbed Data Queen.  Data is necessary for making decisions based on evidence and findings.  In order to make informed decisions to drive instruction, the use of multiple data sources is imperative.   Gathering data takes time.  It also takes time to analyze it.  Use your data to check for gaps in learning, gaps in curriculum, etc...  Please note there are many forms of data.  It is not always necessary to measure student academic data.  Other data- surveys from parents and teachers; school climate, student behavior, attendance, etc...  Data from all forms is necessary.
Need help with collecting data or creating a data wall?

5.  Clear Vision and Focus- As the principal, you are "the instructional leader."  Do you articulate a focus on student achievement and provide a plan for your staff to accomplish it?  Get your plan in place.  Step up a meeting and discuss it.  Share with your campus the weaknesses and strengths.  Brainstorm strategies to meet the needs on the campus.  The vision must be embraced and embedded in daily practice by all staff members.

6.  Quality Learning Time- We must be very aware of ways to maximize instructional time.  Classroom instruction time is sacred and should be uninterrupted.  Don't just think of this as "actual clock time." Is the time that teachers spend for core subjects quality time?  Are they prepared for the lessons?  Do we as principals give them the resources needed to provide quality instruction and an adequate planning time for implementation?  We can't ask teachers to teach if we don't provide them with the tools they need to do the job.

7.  High Expectations - Explicit, rigorous standards are in place for student learning.  The teachers have confidence that success is attainable.  The expectations are evident and understood by all.  We have an unwavering commitment and willingness to be flexible and adjust when needed.  Here's the deal with this...Be prepared for setbacks.  It will happen.  Be flexible and have a plan in place if your first plan doesn't go as expected.

8.  Positive School Climate- It's not all going to be "Skittles and Rainbows."  No lie.  We are all human and when the pressure is on we all tend to get aggressive.  I mean irritable.  Laughing... We can all use pats on the back and a treat in our mailbox.  Don't overlook this area.  The small things matter.  A card, a piece of candy, and a compliment goes a long way.  Take the time to listen.  Take the time to make eye contact.  Let your staff know you hear them and will be there to support them.  A principal must support the teachers.  My motto: I will support you when you are right and defend you when you are wrong.

9.  Teacher Quality- Provide meaningful professional development.  Not some pie in the sky training that no one will ever do.  Teachers don't have time to sit in training for something that isn't practical.   Teachers need differentiated professional development.  A first year teacher and a 15 year teacher require different trainings.  Teachers need feedback after walk-through observations.  Be consistent with being in classrooms. Provide time for teachers to collaborate.  Teachers are only as good as their leader.  Be an effective role model when you provide professional development to your teachers.  For example, I use technology devices during training because I want my teachers to use them during instruction.  I will discuss teacher selection/hiring process another time.  However, note that having the right people on your bus matters.
 Provide Classroom Observations easily and effectively with the

10. Organizational Structure- Who is in charge of what?  Empower your staff to be responsive in support of improvement.  Create leadership teams.  Create professional learning communities.  The more the teachers are involved in the planning-the more they're willing to apply the steps necessary.  Let's change gears for a minute and discuss organizational structure and less human organizational structure.  The campus needs to run smooth.  That all begins with excellent planning.  I have always said, "if I do my job right in the summer, then school begins without any bumps."  It's true.  I work harder in the summer than the first semester altogether.  I plan for everything in the summer - schedules, trainings, meetings, etc...

11.  Process and Procedures- We just can't afford to fly by the seat of our pants.  We must put priorities in place for teaching and learning.  Do you have a process for administering data, for collecting data, for evaluating teachers, for monitoring attendance, for parent involvement, etc...  Develop systems for everything. 

 12.  Student Support- Oh boy. What a biggie for discussion.  Let's begin with academic support.  That is the obvious one.  Begin each year with accessing students to determine their weaknesses.  Provide services based on the data.  If your campus does not have the liberty to have interventionists/instructional coaches, then these services are in the classroom.  When I was teaching, I didn't have these either.  I survived and had a plan inside the classroom during small group instruction.  Make plans to effectively monitor student progress and schedule data meetings regularly.  Non-academic- students need rewards, treats and recognition just as adults do (if not more so).  Ideas such as Pizza with the Principal and Principal for the Day are a few things I do.  Student's needs must be met in all areas of academic, social and emotional.  If they are coming to school hungry, we must meet that need.  Get to know your students and understand their circumstances.  Provide what they need to be successful.

13.  Accelerated Learning-  State accountability does not just look at our shortfalls.  It also looks at how many students advanced in learning.  I created Advanced Placement classes in my elementary school.  Students who were scoring high where given time during the day to be instructed on higher level thinking skills.  Don't forget the higher students.  The goal of accelerated learning is to instruct students with a way of learning that suits them best.  Another way to accelerate learning is to know exactly what students need in order to move them forward.

14.  Communication- In order for improvement to occur, we must know how to achieve it.  It is vital to communicate.  Send newsletters, emails, provide faculty meetings, grade-level meetings, etc...  For me, I send out an email every morning.  If I didn't have anything to say about the events of the day, it was a quote or words of inspiration.  I sent home parent newsletters.  I scheduled weekly grade level meetings.  Scheduling them for the same time and day of the week works best for us.  As far as communication goes with school accountability/improvement, everyone must know why we are doing what we are doing.  They must be actively involved in the decisions, planning and implementation of the goals. 

As you can see there are many areas to be addressed when searching for solutions to school improvement.  There are many more too.  They all matter in a big way.  Stay tuned for more Solutions for School Improvement during the month of September.

Looking for anything in particular...just let me know.  Need help with a project- I'm easy to reach.

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