Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gap-closing schools and teaching quality

Leaders from those schools gave us powerful confirmation of some key ideas about what works to help all students succeed. Their answers seemed to us to turn repeatedly to five key principles:
  • Students have positive relationships with adults and peers.
  • Students respond to high expectations they understand.
  • Students flourish with appropriate, engaging, meaningful instruction.
  • Students are motivated through choice, ownership and energy.
  • Students' individual needs are recognized and addressed.
That's a summary of what I learned in 2002-03 from Kentucky's schools with the strongest results for students who often get "caught in the achievement gap," including low-income students, African-American students, and students with disabilities. The results of that analysis were published by the Kentucky Association of School Councils in the Spring 2003 issue of Insights.

A bit later, Steve Clements and Patty Kannapel's Black Box study saw seven consistent traits in a set of high-poverty high performance schools, from which I want to highlight just one:

Faculty work ethic and morale. The faculty and staff worked very hard to meet their students╩╝ needs, regularly analyzing data on individual students and planning appropriate instruction or interventions. They helped families and students find transportation, clothing, health care, and other services, and they worked after school and on weekends to provide help with tutoring, portfolios, assessment preparation, or parent programs. They did this work with enthusiasm and dedication; there were no reports of overload or teacher burnout.
When I was working my way through what individual educators told me about their best work, I summarized what I heard as " we love them and teach them." When I was working my way through how whole schools did that kind of work consistently, I changed the summary to "we love the students enough to try, and we love each other enough to succeed."

The teaching quality that generates student success appears to me to come, always, from that combination of classroom focus and schoolwide collaboration.

The Insights issue on Closing the Achievement is available from KASC here. The "Black Box" study is summarized in more detail here and available for download here.

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