Years ago I was involved in a project where a new principal was trying to turn around her “failing school.” Test scores were abysmal, staff morale was in the toilet, and parental involvement was nil. Faced with such a set of circumstances, there were lots of different approaches we could have taken. But the first thing we did was make sure every student was greeted coming in the door every single day.
According to Dr. Joseph Murphy, that approach follows what we know about what works in school change: “All grade schools rest on two feet. One is hard work, challenging students, etc. This is the variable we are hearing the most about, that of ‘academic press.’ The other that is just as critical is the school’s community or culture.”
Much of what one reads in this ASCD piece called “Getting the Word Out, Part I: How School Leaders Can Address Equity and Engagement” by Peter Dewitt supports this notion that community building, listening, really seeing the people who make up a school is foundational to building the capacity to make a change. Here are some of the things he suggests school leaders must do to make that happen:
- Get out of their offices.
- Have authentic conversations in which leaders do more listening than speaking.
- Encourage student voice: “All students have something to teach us. Kids are not the problem, but they’re the solution.”—Russ Quaglia
- Engage with parents by making their presence known at the beginning and end of the school day, creating a school newsletter, and engaging in aspects of “flipped communication.”
- Flip faculty meetings—rather than disseminate information as lecture, pick real topics affecting the school and ask teachers to come prepared with resources for discussion, thereby encouraging authentic and productive discussion.
If we don’t pay attention to the fundamental conditions necessary for literacy learning to occur, we’re not likely to see much literacy improvement happen.
Special thanks to NCTE member Heatherlyn Schoeppich for collecting the ideas above. Heather is helping to curate information for Connected Educator Month and our Collaboration and Capacity Building Theme.