Here’s my bottom line: The most important task of a school leader is to embrace the challenge of having a clear and shared vision of equitable outcomes for all students. It is the democratic principle of fairness upon which our country is founded and the basis for truly changing the achievement gaps that now prevail.
With the recent news that only 66% of Oregon students graduate high school, it’s clear that this vision does not “just happen.” It has to be owned and shared by the whole school community. It must be intentional, planned, implemented and supported to be sustainable. It must be evident every day, every week and every month in every classroom. All students, teachers and parents need to know and own a common vision of outcomes at their school. What must each student know and be able to do when he/she graduates? When this is clear and held dear, there is a true school spirit.
All students come from somewhere special, each with different backgrounds, different experiences and different circumstances. The whole of their differences is the beautiful mosaic of school. And when they come through the school doors, they are in a place where equity can happen. But there must be a roadmap for success for each student in each classroom across these differences.
Teachers must lead the way for the students. They must know their students well, understanding them across all their differences. They must ask the question: What does it take for a student to enter a school at one level of achievement, move forward, and then graduate with the highest potential achievement? That’s the daily challenge of teaching, at every level.
Many teachers do incredible work for many students. Many reach a majority of students, however, not enough reach all of the students. Unfortunately, there are students in most classrooms who are left out of the loop sometime during the school day. Their voices are not heard. Their needs are not acknowledged. Their minds are not challenged. They start to not “show up,” either physically or mentally. They fail in one or more subjects. They are “pushed out” of the system eventually, and we all lose. Teaching effectively so that all students can move forward on their own roadmap is critical. Knowing what that pathway looks like for each student is the vision!
As a school leader, I might expect to see the following in a classroom where good teaching takes place:
• There is a sense of a learning community within the classroom—the environment is open, inclusive, supportive, trusting.
• The lessons are well-prepared (by a teacher, team, or in collaboration), strong in the content areas, and intentionally designed for understanding by each and all students in the classroom. There is a myriad of strategies in place to address differences throughout the period. There could be various groupings, individual learning, small group learning, whole group learning, and projects that relate to real life experiences. There is technology to support their work. Most importantly, there is rigor for all—at all levels of understanding. There is a seamless differentiation in instruction according to student learning needs and expected outcomes. The processes in the classroom are democratic.
• Assessments occur continually throughout the lesson with feedback given to the students to encourage and help them “own” their learning. Students are receptive to the feedback as it is part of their understanding that the vision is for their realization of success.
• All students are engaged in deeper understanding of the learning that day. They know the expected outcome for themselves that day. The teacher is making certain all students are acknowledged and heard.
• Students are involved in thinking, writing, researching, listening… and you hear them speaking and questioning (more often than the teacher’s voice). You hear their voices addressing what they are learning. They seem confident and know the power of their ideas. They are respectful of each other.
• A trusting relationship is evident among the teachers, students and peers. Students are inspired by the challenge of the expectations while feeling assured of support from their teacher and peers.
• As students leave the classroom, they know what they have learned that day and are able to take it to the next step or level…. They have their plan in mind and are intellectually alive!
Good leadership must provide consistent support for teachers to carry the vision. Teachers need more training in understanding racism, sexism, ageism, special needs, disabilities, socio-economic status, second languages, cultural backgrounds, etc. There are many cultural differences to understand and incorporate into how to deliver good teaching.
But teachers are in the profession because they care! They should be congratulated and rewarded when they move forward in making each day more equitable for all students. It takes being conscious and intentional, with a willingness to reflect on the incredible uniqueness of each student.
Leading a school with a vision for each student to be inspired to learn and demonstrate achievement on a daily basis is critical for success. That clear and shared vision can assure all students graduate with the confidence to participate, excel and celebrate in their community.