If “it” was like manufacturing, we could just buy the formula. But “it” has to be “produced” in every school, using the unique ingredients of each locale. Yet there are some practices that help us in any learning situation. What is the “it” I am talking about?
The “it” is what schools do that make them effective. Do we know what makes schools effective? Yes, as a matter of fact, we do. Beginning with Ron Edmonds’ work in the Effective Schools movement, and continuing today through the research work of Robert Marzano, Doug Reeves, Tony Wagner and others, we do know that there are practices that are more effective than others in helping both students and teachers to continue to develop their skills.
In their book, Change Leadership: A Practical Guide to Transforming Our Schools, Tony Wagner and Robert Kegan point to Seven Disciplines for Strengthening Instruction that they believe are central to any successful systemic instructional-improvement effort:
- Urgency for instructional improvement using real data
- Shared vision of good teaching
- Meetings about the work
- A shared vision of student results
- Effective supervision
- Professional development
- Diagnostic data with accountable collaboration
These ingredients are important parts of CSI’s new Measuring the Mission school improvement/accreditation process. I would like to strongly encourage all Christian schools to hold themselves accountable through this type of systematic instructional review process that leads to accreditation. Our calling to continuously improve our work comes not from NCLB or the provincial government, but from God. Let’s consider these reasons for engaging in continuous improvement:
1. We really need regular, quality, focused conversation, around instructional improvement using data, with our staff – we know that when we involve and engage our teachers in the process, we inevitably see a greater understanding of our mission/vision and ownership of the needs of students and parents.
2. We must make our missions and visions come alive through a close linkage with what we do in the classroom and the student outcomes we are seeking.
3. We must offer our very best as a sacrifice of praise – how can we not seek excellence when we bear Christ’s name in the names of our institutions? Seeking excellence is an expression of gratitude for the great blessings we have received.
4. We must focus our energies on what really matters – there are many things seeking our attention, but let’s keep focused on the reasons we exist.
5. School improvement/accreditation is never about the final approval by a team or organization, but the value is in the process of conversation and focus around things that really matter at the local level, yet as compared to external standards of best practice that are from outside of the school.
Any excuses we may be using to not engage in school improvement/accreditation processes such as “it’s too much work”, “we’re good enough already”, “ it will cost some money”, or “we don’t need to do that because we are a private school” are really inadequate in the light of the previous paragraphs! It is imperative to work on our distinctiveness, to measure our missions, to use data effectively, and to continue to develop programs of study for students that deeply engage them and lead them to understand and respond to God’s call to advance his kingdom.