Success in Schools Is…

Image courtesy of:
Image courtesy of:

I have been thinking a lot lately about how schools are deemed to be successful and or seen to be excelling at what they do. What is it that defines a school for it to be successful? Is there a difference between success, expectations or excellence? Should we be differentiating what is expected from some schools as opposed to what we expect from others? Is excellence in teacher practice and what occurs in the classroom what matters most or is the emphasis placed to heavily on outcomes and data, something of which is a little cliché in educational thinking?

In saying the above there are several items or measures of success that spring immediately to mind. These being the Victorian Department of Education’s ‘Effective School’s Model’, the recently released FISO Model (Framework for Improved Student Outcomes), also by the Vic DET and one that I can across last year titled ‘An Effective School Improvement Framework: Using the National School Improvement Tool’. A model developed by ACER. These models can be seen below.

Regardless of which model a school “follows”, will it be effective and or successful if they have implemented and ticked all items depicted? Are there educational settings that have done this? And are they successful? Is their data outstanding? More to the point, are their students happy, engaged and collaborative learners?

FISO Model
FISO Model
ACER National School Improvement Tool
ACER National School Improvement Tool
Effective Schools Model
Effective Schools Model

I have been a member now of the Educational Leader / School Principal Team Club now for 20 weeks and within those 20 weeks it’s fair to say that there have been quite a few challenging yet also equally as many rewarding events that sit parallel.

Within the past 20 weeks I have been fortunate enough to have witnessed and been directly involved in several outstanding examples of what I believe success in a school should, if not, be expected to, look like.

As a school leader I am certainly under no illusions that teaching and working within an education setting can be a difficult gig and for some of us in certain settings, it can be a whole lot more difficult than for others.

Success for myself personally and more so for my staff and my campus in particular has come in many shapes and sizes throughout the first semester of 2016. I am certainly ‘chuffed’ due to the fact that I have witnessed first hand the impact that specific changes and adaptations to practice and culture have had in and on the larger collective. That being all school community members.

Putting the massive emphasis on data aside (and data can be a great thing!), I thought I would share what I feel have been extremely positive shifts towards my campus perusing that ‘successful’ tag. Implementing the things that change a culture, change thinking, and drive continual improvement.

Responding to Change

Change is never easy. It’s not meant to be, it’s change! People by their very nature are largely creatures of comfort and routine and once a cat is thrown amongst the pigeons, well, a propensity for chaos often ensues.

I would not say that there has been change/s taking place on gigantic scales, however what has transpired on Campus has been well received with driving support from staff, with, some slight hesitation, but you’re going to get that.

Michael Fullan talks about all implementation of new change going through a “dip”. In short, things getting worse before they get better. What transpires from here is that desired performance level is reached and said change is in play. Not overnight, but it does happen.

As a school leader this is exciting. To see staff willingly changing practice and having the growth mindset to embrace and or, reluctantly attempt, new initiatives is very encouraging.

Raising the Bar

I have been surprised, more so in awe, of the willingness of staff to be pushed and push each other. To keep having the expectations placed upon them raised for the benefit of our students and wider community.

It is inspiring and although it is easy for me to hold that bias, I believe it is inspiring none the less. There has been a continued growth in the notion of ‘paying it forward’, staff identifying and using each other’s skills and capacity to improve the practice of all as a collective. I liken this to Derek Sivers’ (of ‘The Lone Nut’ fame) video “Obvious To You, Amazing To Others”. A reminder that sometimes what is obvious to us is amazing to others, and in identifying that we can all learn from each other.

I believe that it is important for a professional setting of any description to continually be challenged and challenge those within. If there is no growth then there is stagnation and compliancy. Two things that are evil for any organization, and in particular a school.

The quote and image attributed to Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, also applies to education as well. Having a mindset that is not willing to grow and be challenged is a dangerous thing. And more importantly, it shows, personally, a lack of duty of care to the kids in our settings.

Inclusive Practice/s

The adjustments that staff are making towards ensuring that they are catering for al l of our learners is outstanding. The capacity that is being built by staff to identify behaviors in learning to ensure students are being catered for is truly remarkable.

The use of the Positive Partnership’s Planning Matrix, albeit develop for students who fall on the ASD spectrum, has been a great tool and welcome addition to better cater for our students and their needs, whether they be social, academic or well being based.

This work is largely what has driven the prior to areas I have mentioned above. This work has been a change for staff to undertake and engage in as well as something that has pushed and challenged.

The conversations amongst staff that have led to adjustments and improvements in teaching and learning practices being made has been visibly evident in making positive differences. Something that cannot be argued against in contributing towards a successful teaching and learning environment.

Collective responsibility

Isn’t it great when all are on the same page. That the collective understand and acknowledge the work that is being done but more so the reason/s for that work needing to be done. Going further again the power lies in seeing the benefits that arise from the work giving those in the organization a concrete belief that they are making a real difference.

The old saying of “it takes a village” really does resonate. Because it does. When there is a greater collective responsibility in educating our students greater progress and growth can be made. Students in an educational setting do not / should not belong to one teacher or another, they belong to all.

When a change process is undertaken, when challenges are laid before staff, when things get difficult, the ideation of collective responsibility makes the work being done more purpose, easier, and clear.

There you have it. Four key areas I feel are imperative for a school to be effective and or successful in meetings its needs, targets and certainly overcoming its challenges.

The last thing I’ll leave with that I have been constantly pondering, just due to the fact that it intrigues me, is Dreyfus’ Model for Skill Acquisition, but more so the idea of those teachers sitting within the Expert (Virtuoso) level who can demonstrate “Enormous breadth
and depth of knowledge and acts appropriately without thought or conscious choice of actions.” This meaning, teachers being unconsciously competent. This is terminology is taken from theory of conscious competence, a theory attributed largely to Maslow.

This is the point when, someone, i.e. a teacher, is demonstrating the necessary skills effortlessly without making conscious effort. That they come naturally. That these skills are taught to others so to that they become, over time, unconsciously competent. We all do this day in day out with some skill we have acquired over time. Much like the way in which Patrick Dangerfield for the Geelong Cats bursts through packs to break the lines and get the ball forward.

It is the development and capacity building in teachers to develop the acquired skills that make the biggest differences to students and their learning that is what we need to focus on. And again, by ensuring we are striving towards being effective and adapting the four points I made earlier that we can look towards achieving this.

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