May 03, 2015

The complicated simplicity of education

The Complicated Simplicity

Focusing and fewer flavors of the week

The time has come to simplify education instead of continuing to use the "flavor of the week" and muddying the waters. With Yoda in mind, I push us forward and say "Do or do not. There is no try." We must place the focus on our children's education.

High Expectations Are a Key Ingredient

Educators must truly believe in high expectations for all. That doesn't mean that you expect every single student to achieve at the highest expectation, but that each child should have that possibility in front of him/her. One of my professors told our class (years ago), "A 'C' is a most honorable grade." High expectations only make schools better. 

Educational Leadership

Create a culture where the principals are expected to be the instructional leader. I believe the superintendent has to be the educational leader, but each principal has to be the instructional leader in his/her building. Instructional leadership is a phrase that has gained a great deal of traction in the last few years. The instructional leader has to understand and lead curriculum, instruction, and assessment all through the lens of school improvement. Mike Schmoker identified effective teamwork, measurable goals, and performance data as key ingredients for school improvement. The principal must be the leader of instruction. 


Create a mission and stick to it. The mission of the school must be clear, understood by all, and shared. Following the mission is a key ingredient not only in leading the school but also designing the school improvement plan. A general guideline I always use when developing a mission is the underlying idea that states, "What do we do on a day to day basis?" At the elementary I used to be principal our mission statement was "Preparing today's students for tomorrow's world." Simple. Effective. 

Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

Within the curriculum, instruction, and assessment "system" led by the principal, ensure that students have enough time to do their school work and that teachers are embracing that time and allowing what is called "time on task" by Larry Lezotte and others who have worked on creating and studying effective schools and identified the "seven correlates." Ensure that the aforementioned culture is sound and that the school is a safe and orderly environment for all — students, teachers, families, etc. The factors that play into this include the school calendar, the daily schedule, and a focus on making sure that students are engaged in excellent instruction every day. One superintendent I know suggests that we build our systems around "response to instruction" moreso than "response to intervention." Furthermore, there should be regular and systemic checks for understanding of student learning. 

The Home and the School

Create a system where the school has good home/school relationships. The connections that are necessary between home and school can create such positive outcomes for kids (and families). A school's relationship with the community helps to establish boundaries. 

Yoda, Flavors of the Week, & Significant Factors

The above thoughts are based on the work of Lezotte and Schomker as well as Marzano and others. In 20 years in education, I've learned a great deal about "how" we get things done in a school. I've also learned the vast importance of making sure people understand the "why" that we do what we do. It's imperative that teachers remember that they went into education to make a difference in kids' lives. It's been my experience that we go through so many different processes in education, always finding the latest and greatest flavor of the week. We must create a focus on the classroom, the school — with the background of the district. Education is simple, but every time a principals goes to a conference and brings home a new "flavor," we take so many steps back. Education must be simplified and we know how to do it. Face it, there is no longer "try," we must do. 

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