resources

Ignite ‘14 to Feature Turnaround Principals

Is your school currently in ‘turnaround mode’? For all but a very few high-performing schools the answer is a resounding yes.

Schools are in the center of a vortex consisting of three major, long-term change initiatives; 1) new, higher standards with accompanying assessments and accountability measures, 2) new teacher evaluation systems, which include data from student test scores, 3) new state data systems for holding schools more accountable, which include attendance, school discipline, and graduation rates.

To further complicate matters, many schools have faced multiple years of tight budgets and are being asked to do much more with larger class sizes and less experienced teachers. At the same time school leaders are being asked to address a twenty-five year low in teacher satisfaction brought on, in large part by the ‘fire our way to Finland’ reformer mindset, an all-time high student poverty rate, and an increasingly diverse student population.

This so-called ‘perfect storm’ of school reform places dramatically increases pressures on school leaders to enter into ‘turnaround mode’ to improve student achievement by increasing rigor, changing staff expectations, and enhancing teaching practice. It is not surprising that 75% of principals say their job has become too complex.

Turning around a school—simultaneously raising student achievement in the face of more rigorous standards, changing attitudes and expectations, and improving teaching requires a “different kind of leadership.” In keeping with NASSP’s commitment to supporting school leaders, the Ignite ‘14 National Conference will include practitioners who have successfully turned around low-performing schools.  In fact, all three are currently in their second turnaround school.

Not only have these schools dramatically improved test scores, but they have reduced course failures, improved attendance, reduced student referrals and discipline incidents by more than 70%, and significantly improved reading and writing scores.

What do these leaders and their schools have in common?

  1. Clear Vision
  2. A laser-like Focus
  3. High expectations resulting from a growth Mindset
  4. Collaboration and Shared Leadership
  5. Strong Staff and Student Relationships
  6. High levels of Student Engagement
  7. Dramatically improved student Behavior
  8. Sizeable increases in student Attendance
  9. A schoolwide Commitment to Learning for all students
  10. Consistent Instruction resulting from a Defined Set of Instructional Practices
  11. A long-term emphasis on Schoolwide Literacy
  12. A strong Culture of Accountability

In addition to my own presentation titled Instructional Leadership: From Inspectors to Builders, school leaders from the three schools with whom I have worked over the past several years will be presenting in separate concurrent sessions:

  • Eric Jones and Teresa McDaniel, J.O. Johnson High School, Huntsville, Alabama
  • Brad Perkins, Muskegon High School, Muskegon, Michigan
  • Kasey Teske and Amy McBride, Twin Falls, Idaho

In addition, Dan Duke, author of Differentiating School Leadership, will discuss what his research has uncovered about the keys to long-term school improvement and turnaround. Dan and I will also be presenting together in a second session, Differentiated Leadership (Part II), on the practical applications of his findings.

Improving schools requires readily available, low-cost, research-based resources for teachers. Former National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling, and I will discuss the resources available from The Teaching Channel and how I have used those resources to enhance classroom practice. As I have done for the past two years, I will continue to emphasize how I used the Doing What Works resources to help schools successfully implement school wide literacy initiatives as well as to reduce dropouts and improve graduation rates.

Restorative Practices: An Answer to Many School Challenges

Guest post by Steven Korr:

Educators face so many challenges today. The pressure to foster student achievement at higher and higher levels is enormous. At the same time, educators find that students don’t seem to be socially and academically prepared to excel. Students often don’t know how to work successfully in groups. Many lack a sense of caring about others that can result in hurtful and even violent behavior.

The upshot is that we’re all seeing more disrespect and disruptions in classrooms. Many teachers wonder, “How can I teach when the problems are so great?” After all, learning requires risk-taking. But if students don’t feel safe, how can they be expected to take necessary risks?

Clearly, these conditions have a detrimental impact on learning. Still, when educators go into the classroom they are expected to teach. And students, for all their challenges, need them to do just that.

The old answers for handling these problems are failing. The current trend across the country is to repeal zero tolerance policies. The data shows that those policies weren’t working anyway. But if we can’t just throw kids out of the classroom or school when they disrupt learning, what are we going to do? Our answer is to institute “restorative practices.”

At the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP), a graduate school based in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, we start from the fundamental premise that people are happier, more cooperative, more productive, and more likely to make positive changes when those in authority do things with them, rather than to them or for them.

In a school building, this means that we have to take a look at how we can build connections and strengthen relationships between everybody in the school – teachers, students, administrators, staff, and even secretaries, bus drivers, hall monitors and cafeteria workers.

This doesn’t mean instituting yet another new program that’s going to be forgotten in a few years’ time. Instead, restorative practices provide a framework for changing the thinking and behavior of those in authority, to consistently do the things that good educators and leaders have always done—thereby changing the way everyone in the school building relates to one another.

Restorative practices provide ways to address student behavior when things go wrong. More importantly, they improve the learning environment so that kids feel safe and effective learning can happen.

Steve Korr is a trainer and consultant for the International Institute for Restorative Practices (iirp.edu). He was a counselor and principal at an alternative school for at-risk youth for more than a decade. He has helped schools across the country, both urban and rural, implement successful restorative practices programs to improve school climate and positively impact learning. He will be presenting a breakout session at Ignite ’14 on Saturday, Feb. 8th from 8AM to 9:15AM.

To learn more about restorative practices and whole-school change, visit SaferSanerSchools.org. The article “What Is Restorative Practices?” by IIRP Founder and President Ted Wachtel also provides an excellent introduction to the topic.

How can you afford not to?

Guest post by Sheila Harrity:

I have attended the NASSP Conference every year since becoming principal. Some people ask, “How can I afford to go?” I say, “How can you afford not to?”

Attending the NASSP Conference: Ignite, has provided me the opportunity to meet outstanding leaders and hear best practices from colleagues who are doing remarkable work in schools across the country and around the world.

Ignite allows me to tailor my professional development based on my school’s needs. At last year’s conference I attended several personalized learning sessions in search of ideas to address our school’s graduation rate. As a result of the information I brought back, we implemented a graduation promise banner that every freshmen student signs as an agreement to graduate in four years. The banner hangs in our cafeteria as a constant reminder to students of the commitment they made. In addition, we take pictures of every freshman student in a cap and gown. Students hang their picture in their lockers as a reminder of their goal to graduate from high school.

This is just one idea of many that I gained from my peers last year at Ignite ’13. Every year I return from this conference with a list of ideas and things to do to improve the school and community. Worcester Technical High School has continued to grow and prosper because of what I have learned at the NASSP Conference: Ignite. I look forward to attending every year, and am excited to meet colleagues and share ideas in Dallas!

Sheila Harrity (@SheilaHarrity) is the 2014 MetLife/NASSP National High School Principal of the Year. She will present at the Reaching All Students Through Career and Technical Education on February 7, 2014 at the Ignite 2014. For more information and to register visit www.nasspconference.org.