Schools across the country work tirelessly to provide positive educational experiences for their students, staff, and the larger community. Yet, there are times when they fall short of this goal. They may experience high teacher turnover, a poor school climate, and low student achievement, just to name a few challenges. In our work, we see that with the right support systems in place, we can collectively improve school performance and meet the needs of students and educators. Here are three valuable strategies you can leverage to achieve transformative improvements:
1. Gather data and establish clear benchmarks
The first step in addressing school improvement is to conduct a needs assessment. It is critical to gather as much information about the school’s performance, both positive and negative. It is helpful to gather data on:
Student learning outcomes
Teacherand administrator capacities and effectiveness
School culture and safety
The needs assessment should evaluate how the school is performing in these areas and determine what factors are contributing to the success. By identifying these factors, we can understand what is happening on the ground and potentially replicate some of the steps that were critical to a school’s success. An effective tool to gather comprehensive data is the Data Triangle surveys. These surveys gather comprehensive data on student performance, school culture, and teacher development and effectiveness. By conducting a social emotional audit with the Social Emotional Developmental Health survey,you can collectdata about students and their relationships with the larger school community. Understanding your data is an important step towards achieving school improvement.
2. Revisit your strategic plan
Once the key data is identified, the next step is to apply the data to the school or district’s larger strategic vision. In revisiting your strategic plan with the data in hand, you can more effectively assess what progress has been made and what pivots are needed. Since the strategic plan represents the voice of the school community as a whole and is the result of countless hours of vision alignment and community investment, it is worthwhile to re-engage with this work and apply the data points to the larger goal. As a team, you can reconsider your strategic goals and reassess your goals for students, teachers, administrators, and the broader school community. In understanding your data deeply, you can tweak your goals and identify priority areas to focus on to achieve the school improvement you seek.
3. Establish a plan with a clear timeline and progress monitoring
After conducting a needs assessment and aligning data to the strategic plan, the final step is to create a clear plan of action. The plan should consist of clear, specific, and measurable goals and steps to monitor progress. A common pitfall with school plans is having multiple goals with no clear accountability. Using the strategic plan as an anchor, create 2-3 goals and a communication/accountability plan for each. These goals should center on the priority growth areas which emerged from the data. This plan must include the clear distribution of roles and responsibilities to core members of the school community. These members can then create clear timelines that includes guardrails and methods for gathering future data to engage in continuous improvement cycles.
By taking the time to collect relevant data from key stakeholders, and reviewing your strategic plan against this data, you are setting up your school or district for successful improvement strategies. Data is telling by revealing what is seen and experienced by different members of the community. These steps help to reorient the school community towards working on areas where there is more need for progress and away from those areas that are already on target. These steps are essential in the work to improve and achieve positive educational experiences for all students and educators.