This article was written for School Improvement + Inspection magazine and first published in May 2017. You can find out how to access the full article on the SI+I website here.
You can read more of my articles for SI+I magazine here.
Although genuine, sustainable school improvement is a slow, incremental process, time is often in short supply.
The unrelenting cycle of inspection can put huge pressure on school principals and senior teams to demonstrate rapidly rising standards.
What, then, is the secret to turning around an underperforming school in a relatively short space of time, whilst laying down the foundations for sustainable improvement?
Here are four suggestions…
1. Change school leadership practices
Firstly, assuming the existing leadership team remains in post, senior staff need to overtly change their leadership practices. Senior leaders need to become ‘instructional leaders’, highly visible around the school and in classrooms; leading by example as excellent teachers first, administrators second.
After all, standards can only improve if changes are made in the classroom and, as such, senior leaders must put pedagogy first – accepting that high quality teaching and learning trumps all. They can signal this in tangible ways by removing as many distractions that teachers face as is feasible, maximising the amount of time they spend in the classroom with students.
If teaching and learning is of the highest quality, there will be less need of bolt-on intervention strategies outside of the classroom and outside of school hours, and more chance of students’ socio-economic differences being rendered null and void. As Hamre and Pianta’s research (2005) found, in classrooms run the most effective teachers, disadvantaged students progress at the same rate as non-disadvantaged students.
The senior team also need to continually communicate their improvement plans to all stakeholders and ensure they make each improvement public. They can do this by consulting on, agreeing and communicating a new vision and mission for the school, and by using this to remind staff, students and parents of the school’s purpose. This vision must be premised on the notion of high expectations for all, and on strong values such as educational excellence and fair access, affording every student an equal opportunity to achieve his or her potential.
Strong leadership teams also share leadership. This is not the same as delegating tasks or actions; it means genuinely empowering all staff – and indeed the student body – with ‘real’ leadership and authority.
Senior leaders can also change their leadership practices by building a consensus amongst their staff, forging a cohesive culture in which everybody works towards the same end goal…
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