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School leader describes one manageable change

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Voice of the Educator

As part of SmartBrief Education’s coverage of educational leadership, we’ve teamed with ASCD to share Emerging Leaders‘ thoughts on key issues. These articles are written by educators, for educators. This month, principal Olympia A. Williams writes about one manageable change.

One manageable change that has had the greatest effect on school improvement at my school is creating a schedule that is conducive to improving student achievement. School leaders must take a comprehensive look at the overall schedule of the school day and look for areas where teachers can collaborate, opportunities for job-embedded professional development and pockets of lost instructional time.

In order for school improvement to occur, teachers must have multiple opportunities to collaborate not just with their grade-level horizontal teams but also with vertical content teams. This cross-collaboration allows teachers to deepen their understanding of the grade level that they teach and deepens their understanding of grade-level expectations before and after the grade level that they teach. These opportunities encourage teachers to reflect on what their students need to know as they progress to the next grade. Helping teachers see the big picture creates a sense of urgency that everyone’s work is important to improving the school as a whole.

Secondly, school leaders must look for opportunities for job-embedded professional development with teacher input. At our school, each week a substitute floats from classroom to classroom doing peer observations and giving feedback to empower teachers to be a part of the change that is needed in order for school improvement to occur. School leaders often think that they have to deliver the change message to teachers, but utilizing peers to create change can sometimes be more effective than a top-down approach.

Lastly, school leaders must look for pockets of lost instructional time and create structures that maximize learning in every area of the school. For example, breakfast may be 30 minutes but it may not take every student 30 minutes to eat so putting a book box in the cafeteria can allow students to read instead of sitting idle. Additionally, students waiting in line during a restroom break students could practice vocabulary words or math flash cards to help them learn vocabulary and/or basic math facts.

Anything that is in the current structure or schedule of the school that does not positively impact student learning should be removed or tweaked to maximize learning opportunities. It is important to keep in mind that we only have students for a few hours in the day so we need to maximize and focus our efforts to make sure that none of that precious time is wasted. Analyzing and reinventing the school schedule with your teachers’ input can have a great effect on overall school improvement.

Olympia A. Williams is a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader. Williams is the principal at Ohio Avenue Elementary School in Columbus, Ohio.

From more content on this topic, read this month’s issue of Educational Leadership magazine featuring articles by John Hattie, Andy Hargreaves, David Berliner and others. Educational Leadership is the flagship publication of ASCD.

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