4 Best Practices for Improving Student Learning

You might find this a bit weird of me, but I often find myself researching successful schools.  I'm always eager to know and understand what other schools are doing.  It's common for me to sit and just search out schools that are performing despite many obstacles.  I have even read many books on the topic, but here are a few of my favorites- Failure Is Not an Option: Six Principles That Guide Student Achievement in High-Performing Schools, I Got Schooled, Results Now, From Good Schools to Great Schools, and even watched this amazing DVD called Waiting for Superman.  I will even go to say I took a course by Mel Robbins on CreativeLive  I have a pretty long commute to my school, so I hit play in my car and enjoyed the course.


TRANSFORMING SCHOOLS

I naturally put the expectation on myself that the school I lead will be the best school it can be.  In order for that to happen, I have to be the best principal, lead learner, and instructional leader, I can be.  Through my countless hours of reading, professional training, and internet surfing, I have found 4 key areas that produce dramatic results: student supports, strong instructional core, solid systems, and  positive school culture and climate.  For me, I don't see success as a single program or event but instead something that evolves over time.   Success doesn't occur overnight.  In fact, it may take years.   

STUDENT SUPPORTS

Effective student supports can create positive student outcomes.  To be effective the resources must be right for the child at the right time.  Student supports come in a variety of ways.  Academic supports such as tutoring, homework clubs, intensive interventions through multi-tiered systems, STEM/STEAM integration, and supports for students being served  in special programs.

Non-academic supports such as counseling, mentoring, positive discipline, and even restorative practices are equally important in reaching each child.  

INSTRUCTIONAL CORE STRONG

If you haven't read the blog post about this section, I highly recommend it.  It goes in great detail about the RtI (Multi-Tier) system at our school.  However, let me also extend that post a little bit here.  Every day, the whole school is involved in our RtI system, called W.I.N.  WIN stands for What I Need.  What I Need looks different for each group being served.  For you see, we aren't just intervening on struggling students, we are also designing a plan of instruction even for our highest performing students.  In order to provide the right services, we spend time assessing students and then reviewing the data.  How may this system help our core instruction you might ask?  It helps in a variety of ways.

  1. When we address the individual needs of each student with intensive and direct instruction, these skills will transfer into the classroom.  Therefore, our students are beginning to perform stronger and better in the Tier 1 setting. 
  2. Collaboration is key to improving our Tier 1.  Teachers are planning and sharing resources.  Self-contained teachers collaborate on lesson planning and brainstorm ideas.  Departmentalized teachers share information and data about their students' progress.  This sharing of information helps each teacher get a bigger picture of the student across different content areas.  Collaboration will create positive learning outcomes for not only the student but the teaching staff as well.  

The only factor that can create student achievement is a knowledgable, skillful teacher.

SCHOOL SYSTEMS

I believe systems are key to successful schools. It's more than just high-quality teaching and learning. The entire school functions as a unified system. I'm working to create the systems in place in my own building. My aim is to work together to develop and sustain a vision of what success really does look like. We must operate with a plan. This reminds me of the movie Sully with Tom Hanks.


Captain Sullenberger(Tom Hanks) and co-pilot Jeffrey Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) takeoff and hit birds soon after reaching approximately 2800 feet in altitude. As soon as the pilots experienced trouble, they immediately took out the flight manual. As school leaders, we don't always have this option. Most often, our planes are being built as we're in the air. Meaning, we are building our systems and leading a school at the same time.  We don't have the liberty to take out a flight manual when we start to experience turbulence.

Creating our plans while leading the school can be quite risky even for the most experienced leaders. In reality, a lot of us are succumb to this more often than not.  Our progress will be anything but systematic, as well as, low performance might be inevitable.  It all depends on many factors.  However, having the right systems being implemented and shared helps the school be more effective.


CULTURE AND CLIMATE

If you have followed Principal Principles™ on social media or read this blog over the years, you know one thing for sure about me.  I believe in creating a positive work environment for my staff, and we celebrate learning- in a big way.  

Our assembly chant:
Who are we? "We are Hawks."
Why are we here? "To achieve greatness."
How do we do that? "We never give up!"

There are high expectations for students and staff at my school.  We are pushed to challenge ourselves and to persevere even when things get difficult.  We think outside the box.  It's okay to take risks-even if we fail.  I want teachers to try new things even if it turns out to be unsuccessful.  All teachers and students are supported and recognized in a variety of ways- Student and Teacher of the Month, PBIS and CHAMPS reward parties, attendance incentives, The Up Award (coworker recognizing another coworker for going above and beyond), and countless morale boosters fill each month.

Boosting a Positive Culture and Climate
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At my school, we share ideas, best practices, promote teachers leading teachers, and fully believe in the motto:  We Have No Fear, We Never Quit, We are Hawks!


CONCLUSION

This may sound like a lot.  It is.  I'm not going to act like it is easy to improve student learning.  In fact, there's always that worry in my own mind if I'm ever doing enough.  We could fail miserably on state assessments and not meet the standards on our accountability system.  My hope is that we all do well.  My overall hope is that our students are successful and love coming to school.  My advice is to be consistent.  Consistency will be your friend in improving student learning.  There are many techniques and strategies thrown at us every day.  Use these strategies to create meaningful gains in classroom performance.

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