Seven pathways to change were identified by the 10 exemplary schools studied for this report:
➊ Reducing Class Size;
➋ Leveraging Collaboration Time;
➌ Responding to Student Needs;
➍ Building Local Accountability;
➎ Recognizing and Rewarding Students;
➏ Using Student Data to Intervene; and
➐ Strengthening Leadership.
It is important to note that stakeholders from the same schools often highlighted multiple pathways as critical to their school’s success. As seen in Table 2, each school’s stakeholders described at least three pathways; two sets of school stakeholders described as many as six pathways. This suggests that pathways are not mutually exclusive; that is, each of the pathways has the potential to work in concert with other approaches to change.
At the same time, as seen in Table 3, stakeholders in at least three schools mentioned each pathway, suggesting that there was agreement regarding the significance of each pathway for school improvement. Leveraging Collaboration Time was mentioned in all schools; Responding to Student Needs was also considered particularly influential. Stakeholders in fewer schools emphasized Strengthening Leadership and Recognizing and Rewarding Students.
STARTING THE JOURNEY
Given the significance of effective collaboration, this may be a good starting point for any school. Effective collaboration was described in the first report of this series12 and stresses the importance of key prerequisites – commitment, willingness to innovate, trust and respect, and supportive leadership. When these prerequisites are coupled with a variety of supportive structures, collaboration can foster meaningful work among teachers and other school stakeholders. According to stakeholders in exemplary schools, supportive structures include well-defined, formal teams with a clear expectation for their collaboration along with a specific purpose and goal for the work. Furthermore, a dedicated architect – a key leader who champions the effort and keeps the team on task – facilitates progress. In addition, collaboration should occur regularly and frequently; that is, formal time should be scheduled for collaboration.
Secondly, the emphasis on building local accountability and maintaining high expectations for teaching and learning, specifically, suggests the need for school leaders to set ambitious, but reachable goals for all their learners. These goals should be communicated to all members of the school community along with clear expectations about how everyone has a role in the change process. Progress must be monitored regularly and communicated openly to strengthen collective accountability for success. In exemplary schools we visited, they accepted no excuses and they were committed to teaching each and every student; this type of culture begins with clear goals, high expectations, transparency, ongoing monitoring, and celebrations of success.
Moreover, the prevalence of incidents focused specifically on understanding student needs and intervening appropriately – either through targeted interventions or instructional changes due to class size reduction – suggests a critical action: put systems and structures in place for getting to know students and their learning needs. School stakeholders should be equipped to both assess frequently and interpret data to identify opportunities for re-teaching. Small groups and one-on-one instruction provide additional mechanisms for getting to know student needs. Once those needs are known, master schedules can allow for more flexible intervention time that can be used for grouping students and working with them to get them back on track when they are behind. Creative approaches to finding more instructional time – after school, at lunch, before school – can be used to intervene in meaningful ways.
Lastly, the importance of an exemplary administrator to guide the effort must not be overlooked. In this report and the first report in the series, stakeholders overwhelmingly agreed that an effective principal was a prerequisite for change. As seen in Table 4, the research on QEIA reported in this series has uncovered 20 characteristics of exemplary principals that can be used by both schools and districts to hire, train, and coach new and existing administrators.
The first two reports in this series provide valuable information about QEIA implementation and impacts. QEIA served as a catalyzing event for schools; stakeholders capitalized on the opportunity to change structures, establish systems, and provide better instruction to learners. With the intent to improve student learning, exemplary schools leveraged QEIA to chart their own unique pathways to change. These lessons, however, can be used broadly by other schools seeking their own quality improvement. The key, however, is to begin with a clear vision that unifies the staff, high expectations for teaching and learning, relentless drive and dedication, and pathways to change that align with local needs. When asked about the advice she had for other schools seeking change, one teacher in an exemplary school put it this way:
I’d tell them that it doesn’t matter what size shoe I wear, it’s not going to fit you. And believe me. We’ve had visiting teams from inside and outside the district. And because they had similar demographics to us, they’re looking for a program. We said, “Look, we have not been successful because of a program. We’ve been successful because we all agree to be successful. You have to find what’s going to work for you and your school and then everybody has to buy into it. If you don’t have buy-in – if this comes from the top-down, then you’re just doing the same thing that you’ve done at your school for 50 years and you’re going to have the same results.” It has to be something the teachers come up with, something the staff works together on, and something that everybody can support…Whatever gets handed down to them as the flavor of the month probably isn’t going to get much buy-in. I think the key to our [success] is we’ve held the course. We set out early on what we wanted to do, how we wanted to get there, and then we’ve stuck with it.